Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the Department of Fisheries Conservation of Fisheries Administration, Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries released today 20 Critically Endangered Royal Turtles into the Sre Ambel River system, in Boeng Trach village, Chamkar Luong commune in Kampong Seila district of Preah Sihanouk province.
The release was made under the EU-funded project implemented by WCS in partnership with Wildlife Alliance, Cambodian Rural Development Team (CRDT) and the Fisheries Administration (FiA), entitled: “Disrupting illicit supply chains of wildlife in Asia by leveraging civil society partnerships to increase the effectiveness of Government action.”
The project aims to reduce trafficking and demand for threatened wildlife in the Greater Mekong. It is a four-year regional project, commencing in May 2019, according to Etienne Delattre, EU-Counter Wildlife Trafficking Project Coordinator for WCS/Greater Mekokng. In Cambodia, the project will focus on turtles, which are globally affected by illicit trade. Cambodia retains populations of a number of highly threatened turtle species, and is both a source and transit country for the trafficking of turtles to markets in Vietnam and China. The project will: 1. Protect populations of threatened turtles, such as Cantor’s Softshell Turtle and Royal Turtle, in the wild, 2. Collaborate with Cambodian Rural Development Team (CRDT) to improve the livelihoods of communities that protect wild turtles and their nests, and 3. Collaborate with Wildlife Alliance and Fisheries Administration to enhance law enforcement and reduce illegal trade and trafficking of turtles within and through Cambodia.
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, funded by Wildlife Reserves Singapore and others. This will be the third release of Royal Turtles into the Sre Ambel River, following releases made in 2015 and 2017, making a total of 66 turtles.
All of the 20 Royal Turtles for release in 2019, scientifically known as Southern River Terrapin (Batagur affinis), were collected immediately after emerging from their nests along the Sre Ambel River and Kampong Leu River in Koh Kong and Preah Sihanouk provinces in 2006 and 2007, and sent to Koh Kong Reptile Conservation Center (KKRCC) in Tuol Korki village, Tuol Korki commune of Mondul Seima district, some 15 km southeastern Koh Kong Municipality, where they have been cared for and prepared for a life in the wild, Mr. Etienne said.
The Southern River Terrapin 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, overexploitation and sand mining, the Sre Ambel River system in Koh Kong and Preah Sihanouk Provinces is the only place the species still found in Cambodia. They are at a 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, research and monitoring, prevention of illegal trade, outreach and livelihood support.
“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 Dr. Ken Sereyrotha, WCS Country Program Director.
“The program has released two groups of our head-started 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. Royal Turtle conservation would not be possible without support from the European Union, Wildlife Reserves Singapore, Rainforest Trust, Turtle Survival Alliance and USFS.