Today I am sad to report that Omsin, the sea turtle, has died. I meant to write a post about Omsin earlier this month when her story first crossed my radar, but I was distracted by other stories, mostly political, and eventually Omsin receded to the dusty corners of my mind. Omsin lived most of her life in a pond near the Gulf of Thailand, south of Bangkok until earlier this month when she was moved to the veterinary faculty at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University.
Though it is unknown how long Omsin had lived in the pond, it is thought that she had been there for most of her 25 years. It is likely she was initially taken there by fishermen who had, perhaps, caught her in their nets. Long ago, a Buddhist leader told fishermen they’d earn good karma by releasing their catches into artificial ponds, and the tradition came to be known as ‘mercy release’.
Since sea turtles are known for their longevity, custom held that the turtle’s long life would rub off on those who shared their wealth. Thus came the tradition of people tossing coins into ponds where turtles live, and thus began the problems for poor Omsin. For you see, Omsin liked to eat the coins that were thrown her way. When Omsin was rescued from the pond in February, she was one very sick turtle, at the point of death, shell bulging, infected, barely able to swim for all the ‘fortune’ she’d swallowed. Scientists and veterinarians named her Omsin, which in Thai means “piggy bank”.
At the rescue center, Omsin quickly came to the attention of veterinary scientist Dr. Nantarika Chansue — Thailand’s leading turtle rescuer. Dr. Chansue, who has been rescuing turtles from filthy ponds for some fifteen years, said she had never seen a case as disheartening as Omsin. A CT scan revealed an egg-shaped clump, seven inches on the side, glowing silver, and the mass had cracked her shell. Turns out there were 11 pounds of slimy black coins pressing against the walls of Omsin’s belly. Surgery to remove the coins was the only hope to save Omsin’s life.
The coins could only be removed a few at a time through the 10-centimeter incision, and the surgery took 7 hours to remove all 915 coins. It was hoped that Omsin had a decent chance for a long life at the end of the surgery.
But Omsin’s problems were not to end there. At first she seemed to be recovering well, but on Saturday, a checkup revealed intestinal problems that would require more surgery. This morning, doctors performed a second operation, but sadly, Omsin, aka Piggy Bank, did not awaken and was pronounced dead at 10:10 a.m. Cause of death: blood poisoning. Doctors said the removal of the coins had created a space in Omsin’s stomach that had probably blocked blood flow in her intestine. That became fatal after she suffered an acute intestinal infection.
“I felt angry that humans, whether or not they meant to do it or if they did it without thinking, had caused harm to this turtle, It’s torture for animals after they eat the coins people throw into ponds. Instead of getting merit, you actually commit a sin.” – Nantarika Chansue
Humans, even well-intentioned humans, pose the greatest threat to the earth and all its lifeforms. R.I.P. Omsin Piggy Bank.