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Conservation Success for Threatened Royal Turtles in Cambodia

Posted By : The Animal Facts Editorial Team

Date: December 6, 2021 10:20 pm

Royal Turtle Release WCS Cambodia

A group of royal turtles are returned by conservationists to the Sre Ambel River system following a head-start in captivity.

Photo Credit: WCS Cambodia

A group of 51 critically endangered Royal turtles have been returned to the Sre Ambel River system in Chamkar Luong commune, Kampong Seila district of Preah Sihanouk Province in Cambodia. Once close to extinction in the wild this event is a major step forward in the conservation of the species.

The release was coordinated by a group of organizations including The European Union (EU), the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), and the Fisheries Administration of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.

Royal turtles are also known as southern river terrapins (Batagur affinis). They are Cambodia's National Reptile but were listed as extinct until 2000 when a small population was rediscovered by Fisheries Administration (FiA) and WCS in the Sre Ambel River.

Since their rediscovery FiA and WCS have worked together to restore their population. Their efforts have received support from other donors including the European Union and Mandai Nature.

One of the conservation efforts is a head start program. Since 2006 turtles have been collected after they emerged from their nests along the Sre Ambel River and Kampong Leu River in Koh Kong and Preah Sihanouk provinces. They were then taken to the  Koh Kong Reptile Conservation Center in Tuol Korki village, Tuol Korki commune of Mondul Seima district. Here they were cared for, kept safe while smaller and more vulnerable and then prepared for their return to the wild.

This release has seen 31 female and 20 male turtles aged from 6 to 15 years old returning to the wild. Each turtle has been fitted with a microchip and an acoustic transmitter which will allow them to be tracked by conservationists.

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H.E Poum Sotha, Delegate of the Royal Government of Cambodia, Director General of Fisheries Conservation, said: “We highly appreciate the participation of local authorities, community and WCS team who have been working together to conserve critically endangered turtles so that they can persist in the natural water bodies. All stakeholders should continue their efforts to conserve the threatened species, and those who still trade protected species will face legal action.”

The European Union is funding this wildlife conservation project, in which WCS and the FiA partner with local communities to counter illegal wildlife trafficking and to protect endangered species. In addition to supporting this work, the European Union is also a key development partner to sustainable fisheries management in Cambodia.

“Cambodia has an incredible wealth of species and habitats. The Royal Turtle is one of the species that need protection urgently. Joint conservation efforts of communities, authorities and WCS should continue, to help the wild population to recover,” said Clemens Beckers, representative of the European Union Delegation in Cambodia. ”Today, we are glad to release these turtles into their natural habitat.”

Unfortunately despite these efforts the royal turtle is still threatened by sand dredging, illegal fishing, overexploitation and loss of habitat.

This is the sixth release of royal turtles since 2015 with 147 turtles having been released.

Dr. Ken Sereyrotha, WCS Country Program Director, concluded: “With the increasing number of adult in the wild through this release, we do hope that this species will breed in the wild and that annual nests will increase in the next few years.”

Learn more about Turtles here – Turtle Fact File | The Animal Facts

Learn more about the Wildlife Conservation Society on their website – Wildlife Conservation Society

Royal Turtle Release WCS Cambodia

The group of royal turtles prior to their release to the wild

Photo Credit: WCS Cambodia

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