Four new Royal Turtle hatchlings hatched and were taken late last month to Koh Kong Reptile Conservation Centre (KKRCC) in Koh Kong Province, for feeding, raising and possibly breeding in the future.
The four hatchlings emerged from a nest of seven Royal Turtle eggs found by a WCS Community nest protection team on a nesting beach along the Kampong Leu River in Preah Angkeo village, Dangpeng commune, Sre Ambel district in January 2019. Unfortunately, only four eggs successfully hatched, while the rest were spoiled after they had been monitored and protected for three months.
The Royal Turtle, scientifically known as Southern River Terrapin (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.
The turtle was believed extinct in Cambodia until 2000 when a small population was re-discovered by FiA and WCS in the Sre Ambel River. A community-based protection program was implemented in Sre Ambel and employs former egg collectors to search for and protect nests, instead of harvesting the eggs.
Mr. Long Sman, Nest Protector, who found the nest, said the four hatchlings hatched on April 26, 2019. He assumed that the three eggs, which did not hatch, may be a result of high temperatures during the hot season. Mr. Sman added that despite this being a disappointing result he was proud that his team were able to save the four remaining eggs.
“There are only a few Royal Turtles left in the wild, so numbers of their nests are also low. This year, conservation team found only one nest the same as last two years,” said Som Sitha, WCS Technical Advisor to Sre Ambel Conservation Project.
“This is a big concern for Royal turtle conservation. If sand dredging, illegal clearance of flooded forest and illegal fishing still continues, our National Reptile species will face high risk of extinction,” he added.
From 2003 to April 2019, 42 nests (equaled to 636 eggs) have been found and protected at the locations in Koh kong and Preah Sihanoukvile provinces along the Sre Ambel River system. Of the 636 eggs, only 427 hatchlings have successfully hatched of which 127 hatchlings have been released into the wild immediately after hatching in 2003, 2004 and 2005. The remaining had been sent to KKRCC for feeding until they reached their adult age of about 12 years before releasing them back into their natural habitat. To protect them from possible widespread disease/disasters, which may cause a massive death to the hatchlings, KKRCC allotted 27 sub-adults to the Angkor Center for Conservation of Biodiversity. As a result, the center released sixty-six adult Royal Turtles into the wild in 2015, 2017 and 2019. Currently, there are 217 hatchlings and young adult turtles left at the center.
“In March 2019, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries issued the Proclamation (Prakas) to designate most sections of the Sre Ambel River system into a management zones for both Royal Turtle and Siamese Crocodile conservation. This Prakas should encourage better management and protection for the Royal Turtle,” said Mr. Ouk Vibol, Director for Fisheries Conservation Department of Fisheries Administration.
“Coupling with the new release of 66 Royal Turtles and the restoration of nesting beaches, the project hopes that the number of nests will increase within the next few years,” he said.
This project is supported by European Union, Wildlife Reserve Singapore, Rainforest Trust, Turtle Survival Alliance and USFS.