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  • Veterinarians prepare to operate Monday on the female green turtle...

    Sakchai Lalit / Chulalongkorn University's veterinary faculty

    Veterinarians prepare to operate Monday on the female green turtle nicknamed "Bank" in Bangkok, Thailand.

  • Doctors removed 915 coins from the female green turtle nicknamed...

    Sakchai Lalit / Associated Press

    Doctors removed 915 coins from the female green turtle nicknamed "Bank" at Chulalongkorn University's veterinary faculty in Bangkok, Thailand



Surgeons remove 915 coins swallowed by Thai sea turtle

BANGKOK — Tossing coins in a fountain for luck is a popular superstition, but a similar belief brought misery to a sea turtle in Thailand from whom doctors have removed 915 coins.

Veterinarians in Bangkok operated Monday on the 25-year-old female green sea turtle nicknamed “Bank,” whose indigestible diet was a result of many tourists seeking good fortune tossing coins into her pool over many years in the eastern town of Sri Racha.

Many Thais believe that throwing coins on turtles will bring longevity.

Typically, a green sea turtle has a lifespan of around 80 years, said Roongroje Thanawongnuwech, dean of Chulalongkorn University’s veterinary faculty. It is listed as an endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

The loose change eventually formed a heavy ball in her stomach weighing 11 pounds. The weight cracked the turtle’s ventral shell, causing a life-threatening infection.

Five surgeons from Chulalongkorn University’s veterinary faculty patiently removed the coins over four hours while Bank was under general anesthesia. The stash was too big to take out through the 4-inch incision they had made, so it had to be removed a few coins at a time. Many of them had corroded or partially dissolved.

“The result is satisfactory. Now it’s up to Bank how much she can recover,” said Pasakorn Briksawan, one of the surgical team. While recovering in Chulalongkorn University’s animal hospital, the turtle will be on a liquid diet for the next two weeks.

Thai media began publicizing the turtle’s tale last month after she was found, and in response, some 15,000 baht ($428) in donations was raised from the public to pay for her surgery.

Ecuador’s kitschy castles are under siege

QUITO, Ecuador — For more than 80 years, this Andean capital has been guarded by a strange array of kitschy castles — brimming with turrets and towers, spires and faux drawbridges, Moorish cupolas and sweeping staircases.

In a city internationally renowned for its colonial architecture (its historic center has been a United Nations World Heritage Site since 1978) the castillos de Quito have often been dismissed as architectural oddities and mid-century eyesores.

Despite being protected by the city, some have been destroyed outright and others have been modified beyond recognition. Of the 15 castles that Hector Lopez, a researcher who blogs about Quito’s architecture, has identified in the city, perhaps five retain much of their original charm, he said.

To understand how these Disney-worthy fortresses ended up in the South American highlands is to know the story of Ruben Vinci, a Mexican immigrant with a flair for the fantastic.

Vinci is thought to have arrived in Ecuador at the beginning of the 1900s and started working in the southern town of Riobamba. But his big break came in the 1930s when Carlos Larrea, an Ecuadorian diplomat and medieval scholar, approached Vinci about designing a home that reflected his interests.

What emerged was a three-story castle with multiple towers, a moat and a drawbridge — all surrounded by an English-style garden.

In the following years, Vinci was on a hot streak, building more than a dozen palazzos and castles for Quito’s high society.

Romulo Moya Peralta, a member of the International Committee of Architectural Critics and the director of Quito’s architectural magazine, Trama, said Vinci’s buildings are an eclectic mix of medieval, neo-Gothic and neo-Moorish styles.

Whether or not the castles are considered in “good or bad” taste by today’s standards, they represent a special time in Quito’s history, Moya said. “These castles are unique and exceptional architectural works and deserve to be protected,” he added.

But even during the boom, there were the beginnings of a backlash, said Angelica Arias, the director of Quito’s Institute for Patrimony, which protects Ecuador’s historic buildings.

Over the years, the Mariscal Sucre neighborhood, where most of the buildings are, became Quito’s new commercial hub. Many of the residential castles were hastily turned into offices, hotels and restaurants. Their once-sweeping gardens became prime real estate to be sold off or developed.

Lopez, the journalist, said the city made a mistake by not recognizing that the castles’ surroundings are also part of their architectural charm.

“At Castillo Larrea, the gardens are gone, the drawbridge is gone,” he said. “It’s a huge loss for the city.”

Just across from Larrea is one of Quito’s most intact castles. A staircase leads up past two lion statutes, through an ornate doorway — and into the “Rickie” department store.

Jose Cueva bought the building in 1979 but said it was never his intention to preserve it.

“I’m a merchant,” he explained on a recent weekend. “For me, everything is for sale except my wife and children.”

But over the years, after he has seen one castle after another fall to the twin forces of ridicule and real estate values, he has become protective. When a company recently offered him “good money” to turn the building into a gas station, he felt it was his civic duty to reject it.

“I’m a Quiteño, and I remember that this used to be one of the prettiest parts of the city,” he said. “I didn’t want to be part of the problem.”

Associated Press

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