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Sre Ambel, Koh Kong Province (October 05, 2018) - After their release in November last year in Sre Ambel River system, the WCS monitoring team and the Department of Fisheries Conservation of Fisheries Administration, Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries reported that recovery efforts for the only remaining wild population of the Southern River Terrapin are showing signs of success. All of turtles that were released in 2017 have been detected since. The monitoring data shows that one has travelled to another river system which is nearly 100 km away from the release site. Another one was captured by a fisherman and handed over to the project. The released turtles are now dispersing over a wider area.
The Southern River Terrapin, also known locally as Royal Turtle (Batagur affinis), is one of the world’s 25 most endangered freshwater turtles and tortoises. It is listed on the IUCN Red List as Critically Endangered, and has been designated as Cambodia’s National Reptile by a Royal Decree issued in 2005. Due to illegal fishing and sand mining along the Sre Ambel River in Koh Kong Province, the only place the species is still found in Cambodia, the species is at great risk of extinction.
The Royal Turtle was believed extinct in Cambodia until 2000 when a small population was rediscovered by Fisheries Administration (FiA) and WCS in the Sre Ambel River. Since then, WCS and FiA have been working together to protect the species from extinction. Conservation activities include nest protection program, head-starting, law enforcement, monitoring and outreaches.
“The nest protection program plays a vital role to protect the species by paying former egg collectors to protect nests, generating extra income for them and allowing nests to successfully hatch,” said Mr. Som Sitha, Technical Advisor to the project.
“The program has released two groups of our head-starting Royal Turtles consisting of equal numbers of sub-adult males and females into their natural habitat in 2015 and 2017. Our post-release monitoring program has showed that control of threats means that there is high survival of turtles, bringing hope that we can restore the wild population,” he added.
“Sand dredging, logging of riparian forest and illegal fishing are the big issues that degrade all the turtle’s habitat, especially their nesting beaches. We need support from all relevant institutions to limit the level of threats along the Sre Ambel River system ,” said Mr. Ouk Vibol, Director of Fisheries Administration Conservation Department.
“FiA is now drafting a Ministerial Proclamation (Prakas) of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries to put most sections of the Sre Ambel River system into a management zone for Royal Turtle and Siamese Crocodile. This Prakas will come into effect very soon,” he added.
Royal Turtle conservation would not be possible without support from Wildlife Reserves Singapore, Turtle Survival Alliance, National Geographic Society, Chicago Zoological Society, US Forest Service, Rainforest Trust, and Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund.