Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), the Department of Fisheries Conservation of Fisheries Administration, Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, in collaboration with Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS), today released 20 Critically Endangered Royal Turtles (Batagur affinis) into the Sre Ambel River system in Dong Peng commune, Sre Ambel district of Koh Kong province.
The release was made under a jointly funded project supported by the European Union (EU), WRS, Rainforest Trust, US Forest Service and Turtle Survival Alliance implemented by WCS in partnership with the Fisheries Administration (FiA).
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 WRS and others. This was the fourth release of Royal Turtles into the Sre Ambel River, following releases made in 2015, 2017 and 2019, making a total of 86 turtles.
H.E Srun Limgsong, Deputy Director of Fisheries Administration, said “we highly appreciate the participation of local authorities, community and WCS in the release ceremony, who have been working together to conserve critically endangered turtles so that they can persist in the natural water bodies”. He added “all stakeholders should continue their efforts to conserve the threatened species, and those who still trade protected species will face legal action”.
All of the 20 Royal Turtles for release in 2020, globally 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 from 2006 to 2015 and sent to Koh Kong Reptile Conservation Center 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. Som Sitha, WCS Technical Advisor said.
The Royal Turtle 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 now the only place where the species is still found in Cambodia. They are 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, research and monitoring, prevention of illegal trade, outreach and livelihood support.
“The nest protection program plays a vital role to protect the species by promoting participation of the local community to protect nests and allowing nests to successfully hatch,” said Mr. Ken Sereyrotha, WCS Country Program Director. “We are very excited to see the progress of the project and celebrate the fourth release of the Royal Turtles. This is a great example of how such an important species can be protected from extinction when the government, local community and wildlife organizations come together. With very few mature individuals left in the wild, WRS is committed to supporting the conservation of Cambodia’s Royal Turtle for the long term, and working with our partners to increase the population numbers in their natural habitat,” said Dr. Sonja Luz, Director, Conservation & Research, and Veterinary Services, WRS.