Police rescued a leatherback sea turtle from the vehicle of poachers who planned to sell the animal for its meat, Costa Rica's Security Ministry said.

The leatherback is an endangered species and the sale of its flesh or eggs is banned in Costa Rica, but on the black market both sell for very high prices.

The turtle was being transported Wednesday night in the trunk of a car in Matama, a town in the Caribbean province of Limón, the Security Ministry said in a statement.

Police had set up a routine checkpoint and when they tried to stop the vehicle, one of its occupants shot at the officers - without hitting anyone - so the cops immediately set off on a chase that ended with the shooter being arrested.

When they checked the trunk of the car, the officers found the leatherback alive.

The animal was taken to the coast guard base in Limón where it was looked after so it could be returned to its marine habitat a short time later.

The leatherback, which can measure more than 2 meters (6 1/2 ft.) long and weigh some 900 kilos (1,982 lbs.), is the largest sea turtle in the world. 

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