Ten of Cambodia’s nearly-extinct Royal Turtles were released on Thursday into their natural habitat in the Sre Ambel River in southwest Preah Sihanouk province, a conservationist group said.
The Royal Turtle, also known as Southern River Terrapin, is one of the world’s 25 most endangered freshwater turtles and tortoises and it is listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List as Critically Endangered.
The Royal Turtle release is the result of nearly two decades of turtle nest protection, care for the young turtles in the Koh Kong Reptile Conservation Centre, and community-based protection of turtles on the Sre Ambel River, said a joint statement issued by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and Cambodia’s Fisheries Administration (FiA).
It was the fifth release of Royal Turtles into the river, following releases made in 2015, 2017, 2019 and 2020, making a total of 96 turtles returned to the wild, the statement said.
“We highly appreciate the participation of local authorities, community and WCS to conserve these critically endangered turtles so that they can persist in the natural water bodies,” said Ouk Vibol, director of the Department of Fisheries Conservation.
“All stakeholders should continue their efforts to conserve the threatened species, and those who still trade protected species will face legal action,” he added.
All 10 Royal Turtles were collected immediately after emerging from their nests along the Sre Ambel River and Kampong Leu River in Koh Kong and Preah Sihanouk provinces from 2006 to 2015 and sent to Koh Kong Reptile Conservation Center for care before being freed into the wild, said Som Sitha, WCS landscape project manager.
The Royal Turtle has been designated as Cambodia’s National Reptile by a Royal Decree issued in 2005, the statement said, adding that the continued sand dredging, illegal fishing, over-exploitation and loss of habitat are major threats to the survival of these species which is at great risk of extinction.
The Royal Turtle was believed extinct in Cambodia until 2000 when a small population was rediscovered by the FiA and WCS in the Sre Ambel River. Since then, WCS and FiA have been working together to protect the species from extinction, it said.
Conservation activities include nest protection program, head-starting, law enforcement, research and monitoring, prevention of illegal trade, outreach and livelihood support, the statement added.
“The nest protection program plays a vital role to protect the species by promoting participation of the local community to protect nests and allowing nests to successfully hatch, head start and release into the wild,” said Ken Sereyrotha, WCS country program director.
XINHUA | PHNOM PENH