Tourists used to toss coins at a green sea turtle that lived in a pond in eastern Thailand, wishing for luck and longevity. But swallowing the shiny tidbits turned out to be a death sentence for the reptile.
After having nearly a thousand coins removed from its stomach in a four-hour operation two weeks ago, the turtle — nicknamed "Omsin," or "Piggy Bank," — died Tuesday.
Omsin, estimated to be 25 years old, had been rescued by Thai navy personnel who saw her visibly ailing in the seaside town of Sattahip. She was then examined by a veterinarian, who found the coins inside her stomach.
The story attracted international media attention, and a public clamor to ease Omsin's plight ensued. The weight of the money inside her had cracked her underside shell and threatened a fatal infection.
The cause of death was intestinal obstruction that blocked Omsin's protein intake, while nickel toxicity from the coins damaged her immune system, said Dr. Roongroje Thanawongnuwech, dean of the veterinary school at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University.
The turtle had appeared to be doing well after the operation, but a checkup Saturday revealed problems with her intestines. Doctors performed a second, 2 1/2 hour-operation, but Omsin never woke up and died Tuesday morning.
"She at least had the chance to swim freely and eat happily before she passed," said Dr. Nantarika Chansue, who led the team that removed 915 coins weighing 5 kilograms (11 pounds) from her stomach on March 6.