April 4, 2008 / 2:41 PM / 10 years ago

Gazans eat endangered turtle "as good as Viagra"

GAZA (Reuters) - A rare giant sea turtle caught on a beach near Gaza City was slaughtered and eaten by Palestinian fishermen who said its blood was an aphrodisiac, among other therapeutic qualities.

As the turtle’s throat was slit on Thursday night in front of a crowd, one fisherman said a sip of its blood was “as good as Viagra”, referring to the popular anti-impotence treatment.

Children were later seen using a part of the shell as a surfboard.

Based on a description of the turtle’s size and shell, Yaniv Levy, an Israeli expert on sea turtles, said he believed it was the endangered Leatherback turtle. Leatherbacks normally weigh between 300-500 kg, he said.

“It’s very rare. We don’t know a lot about the Leatherback’s population in the Mediterranean ... All we know is that they’re here and they are under threat,” Levy told Reuters by phone.

He said up to three Leatherbacks reach the Israeli coastline each year. Israel pulled troops and settlers out of the Gaza Strip in 2005 but continues to control its coastline, air space and major goods crossings.

A Reuters cameraman said the fishermen collected the giant turtle’s blood and gave it to children suffering from trauma and adults with back problems.

“I call it a super turtle. That’s the biggest turtle on earth today. It can dive up to one kilometre,” Levy said.

“It’s unfortunate of course to see such a rare animal being slaughtered. It’s such a unique opportunity to learn about these guys.” he added.

Israel tightened a cordon of the impoverished Gaza Strip in June after Hamas Islamists seized control of the territory from rival forces loyal to President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah movement.

A smaller Leatherback was caught off the Gaza coast last month but the turtle was released after fishermen discovered it carried a tag classifying it as an endangered species.

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