Asia, Thailand, Travel

We Tried to Save a Turtle – Was that Alright?


We once tried to save a turtle in Thailand. A country where serving turtle soup in a dinner table as a local delicacy is a norm. And until now I’m still wondering if we did the right thing.

We were in a train heading to Bangkok with lots of local people from the countryside. It was an interesting atmosphere. Several vendors got in with their native bags and baskets filled with agricultural products which they transport to sell in a nearby town.

They also sell them to passengers. We bought a cooked food that’s wrapped in banana leaf just because I thought what’s inside is the same as what we have in the Philippines but I was wrong. We had no idea what the ingredients were but we ate it anyway.

save a turtle in Thailand
local delicacy sold by vendors in the train

The next purchase is not something edible, at least not for us.

My attention was called by one of my friends in another row. They were eager to show me a local product that they know I’ll be interested in. Having Quilbye as my one and only pet for four years at that time, of course I will be thrilled to see some of his co-species abroad.

They were turtles. Bigger and way stronger than Quilbye, alive, and eager to escape. It was sad because I know they will be at someone else’s center table in few days, or even that day – dead, cooked and seasoned.

But that’s the way it is. No matter how appalled we were to know that people eat these adorable and peaceful animals, it is their culture. Some people who are from other places could have the same reaction to us eating chicken or pork in almost every meal. How are they different? Pigs are adorable too.

I went back to my seat, only to be called again few minutes later.

My friends bought one turtle for THB100 and they didn’t know what to do with it. 

They knew we won’t be able to bring it home, at least not without any trouble at the airport. We had no idea what kinds of creeks or rivers they have in Bangkok, but if it’s the same as the ones in Manila, they might be dirty, toxic and polluted.

It might sound ridiculous now but there was only one sane thought we had in mind at that very moment: To save the turtle by throwing it out of a moving train. 

We will throw it out of the window and hope that it will find its way back in the wild, maybe live in the nearby pond for as long as it can. Pretty simple but it wasn’t. We had three problems to deal with before doing that.

  • First, we were surrounded by locals
Trade inside the train
Trade inside the train

We couldn’t just throw it away infront of everyone, especially with the vendor nearby. Sure we paid for it, but we worry it would make us culturally insensitive if we don’t respect their norms. Foreigners who were trying to heroically save the turtle from the local residents sounds insulting in any culture. And the fact that we ourselves were eating other animals in our daily meals doesn’t help.

  • Furthermore, there was a total language barrier.

I didn’t know if there were some people there who could speak English, but I remember speaking with vendors through smile and hand gestures. We were also speaking in Tagalog when while we’re discussing on what we should do so we were literally aliens.

  • Then there was everyone who’s afraid of the turtle.

It wasn’t the gentle creature that we were used to. It was fierce, strong, and desperate to escape with its sharp claws that could scratch our skin. The one who was holding it started crying and the others never dared to take it from her. I took it and I struggled to keep it in my hand without hurting both of us.

It’s probably evolution, I thought. There isn’t so much demand for wild turtles in the Philippines so Quilbye, Mavkiel, and Kallysto (the three turtles I took care of ) survived being mild and carefree. But in places like Thailand, maybe their species needed to be a lot more stronger and aggressive to escape the exotic appetite of humans and be able to procreate.

We started attracting attention because my friend was crying but we thought this might be a good time to throw it. They might think ‘someone is afraid so they got rid of it’ which eliminates the idea that we were trying to save the turtle from them. At least that was what we hoped. Nevertheless, we still tried to hide what we’ll do.I moved to a seat not visible to a lot of passengers some of the guys tried subtly cover me.

  • The train was moving fast and it was difficult to decide where to drop it

We didn’t have so much time . We were getting away from the countryside. Chances to pass by a pond or at least a land with more trees and less humans residents was getting rare. Now we were on a lookout for an approaching landscape that might be ideal for this little fella.

The train was moving so fast and there were always obstacles, mostly trees within a meter outside the window. If it will be thrown against something, it might bounce back and be killed instantly. And so we waited.

Finally, we saw an approaching open space with a small pond. We all decided in that instant and I didn’t waste time. I let it go. In a split second, it was out of my hand as a tall plant pass by our window. ‘Knonk’ ‘Toink’ ‘Tugs’. I don’t know how to describe the sound but we heard something.  We were all left stunned asking ourselves and each other if we were able to save it.

It didn’t bounce back, we were quite sure of that. However, it may have been stuck in the branches of the plant and stayed there for who knows how long. It might have died due to the impact, or wounded by the thorns of the plant’s branches.

We didn’t feel the relief we were expecting. Instead, we felt worried and a bit guilty that we overlooked that approaching plant and the turtle was thrown infront of it. Nothing much can be done now, and we felt powerless.

But it was no ordinary turtle, it was strong and persistent. We tried to comfort ourselves with the thought that it survived. It’s quite sad that I couldn’t take it home. I thought maybe if you feed it and show it love and affection it might start to trust you. If it starts feeling that being around humans isn’t that dangerous, maybe it will be gentle. But they have smaller brains than pets like dogs and cats so I’m not really sure if it’s capable of changing its instincts.

Regardless of how it ended, I still wonder if we did the right thing with the locals around. I’m trying to imagine how a Filipino will react if a vegetarian foreigner will buy living fishes and throw it back to the sea infront of the fisherman. Maybe it’s not a good idea. Though I would still want to save a turtle if I could and I admire the intention of my friends who tried to.

This is Quilbye. He's been with me for 6 years.
This is Quilbye. He’s been with me for 6 years.
Locale: Aranyaprathet
Country: Thailand
Year: 2013
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