By Mengey Eng
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| February 18, 2018
Koh Kong (19 February 2018) – A nest of the Critically Endangered Royal Turtle with 16 eggs has been discovered by conservationists from Fisheries Administration (FiA), WCS, and local communities along Sre Ambel River system near Preah Angkeo Village, Sre Ambel District of Koh Kong Province. Four local community rangers have been hired to guard it until the eggs hatch. This is the first nest of Royal Turtle found in 2018.
Listed on IUCN’s Red List as Critically Endangered, Southern River Terrapin (Batagur affinis), locally known as the Royal Turtle, is one of the world’s 25 most endangered tortoises and freshwater turtles. The Royal Turtle is so named because in historical times only the Royal Family could consume its eggs. It is designated as Cambodia’s National Reptile by Royal Decree issued on 21 March 2005.
“From January until March is the Royal Turtle’s breeding period, so our team is working hard to search for its nests in the Sre Ambel River system. If we find a nest, we will work with the local community to protect it until the eggs hatch and then bring the hatchlings to Koh Kong Reptile Conservation Center where they will be cared for until they are mature and can be released back to the wild,” Mr. In Hul, FiA Official and Project Coordinator.
“We also conduct outreach so that local villagers living around the river are aware of the importance of the Royal Turtle because it is Cambodia’s National Reptile and a Critically Endangered species. Collection of eggs or adults for consumption or sale is illegal in Cambodia,” he added.
Royal Turtle was believed extinct in Cambodia until 2000 when a small population was re-discovered by FiA and WCS in the Sre Ambel River. In 2001, WCS in partnership with the FiA started a community-based protection system in Sre Ambel, hiring former nest collectors to search for and protect nests, instead of harvesting the eggs.
“Despite success after the species was re-discovered in 2000, the Royal Turtle is still at high risk of extinction. The number of nests found each year is very low, with just three nests in the last two years” said Som Sitha, WCS’s Technical Advisor to the Koh Kong Conservation Project.
“Illegal clearance of flooded forest and illegal fishing puts this species at risk. Everyone can help conserve our national reptile by not purchasing or eating their meat and eggs,” he added.
Royal Turtle conservation would not be possible without support from Wildlife Reserves Singapore, National Geographic Society, Chicago Zoological Society, US Forest Service, Rainforest Trust, and Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund.