Image: © WCS
Twenty royal turtles have returned to the Sre Ambel River system in Koh Kong Province’s Sre Ambel district through a partnership between The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), Mandai Nature and the Fisheries Administration (FiA) of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries (MAFF).
Royal turtles are critically endangered with the species thought extinct until 2000 when they were rediscovered in the Sre Ambel River by the FiA and WCS. Since their rediscovery FiA and WCS have worked together to ensure the survival of the species.
The twenty turtles are ten females and ten males. Each was fitted with a microchip and had an audio transmitter attached to its shell. This will give scientists the ability to track them as they move through the river system.
Known globally as Southern River Terrapins (Batagur affinis) these individuals were collected along the Sre Ambel and Kampong Leu Rivers in Koh Kong and Preah Sihanouk provinces between 2006 and 2015. They were then taken to the Koh Kong Reptile Conservation Center where they have been under care and prepared for life in the wild.
Mr. Ouk Vibol, Director of the Fisheries Conservation Department at the Fisheries Administration, said, “The collaboration between local authorities, communities, and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) in their efforts to conserve our critically endangered turtles in natural water bodies.” He added, “The Sre Ambel River System and its surrounding riparian forest are protected under Prakas No. 133, issued by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries (MAFF) in 2019, which makes cutting, clearing, and grabbing of this habitat illegal. Mr. Vibol also called on local residents to avoid capturing and trading this important species.
As one of the long-standing supporters of this conservation project, Dr Sonja Luz, CEO of Mandai Nature, congratulated the WCS team on achieving yet another conservation milestone with the essential support of local authorities and communities. She said, “The ongoing releases of these Critically Endangered turtles into their native habitat demonstrates the importance of ex situ management in species protection and collaborative efforts between the various stakeholders. Together with strong involvement and commitment from various stakeholders, we are hopeful that the turtles’ population can soon thrive in the wild.”
Work to save the royal turtle is supported by Mandai Nature, the European Union’s Partners Against Wildlife Crime, US Forest Service, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Rainforest Trust, United States Forest Service, Allan & Patricia Koval Foundation, USAID Feed the Future, and Turtle Survival Alliance. The project is implemented by WCS in partnership with the Fisheries Administration (FiA).
This release serves as the culmination of a two decade long program involving turtle nest protection, head-starting young turtles at the Koh Kong Reptile Conservation Centre, and community-based protection efforts in the Sre Ambel River. Under the program 167 turtles have been released across seven releases.
The royal turtle is considered one of the 25 most endangered turtles species on Earth. Cambodia designated them as their national reptile through a royal decree in 2005.
Image: © WCS
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