Kampong Seila – The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), the Department of Fisheries Conservation of the Fisheries Administration of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, in collaboration with Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS), today released ten critically endangered Royal Turtles (Batagur affinis) into the Sre Ambel River system in Chamkar Luong commune, Kampong Seila district of Preah Sihanouk province.
The release was made under a jointly funded project supported by the European Union (EU), WRS, the Rainforest Trust, the US Forest Service and Turtle Survival Alliance implemented by WCS in partnership with the Fisheries Administration (FiA).
This 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 other donors. This is the fifth release of Royal Turtles into the Sre Ambel River system, following releases made in 2015, 2017, 2019 and 2020 making a total of 96 turtles - returned to the wild.
Mr. Ouk Vibol, Director of Department of Fisheries Conservation, 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 ten Royal Turtles, 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, where they have been cared for and prepared for a life in the wild, said Som Sitha, WCS Landscape Project Manager.
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.
The continued sand dredging, illegal fishing, overexploitation and loss of habitat which resulted from land grabbing and clearance of riparian flooded forest are major threats to the survival of these species which 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, research and monitoring, prevention of illegal trade, outreach and livelihood support, supported by several donors including the European Union (EU) and Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS).
“We congratulate the Royal Government, local authorities and WCS for their joint efforts in protecting these Royal Turtles, thus highlighting how important it is to protect Cambodia’s rich biodiversity”, said EU Ambassador to Cambodia, Ms. Carmen Moreno.
The EU is funding a wildlife conservation project, in which WCS and the Fisheries Administration partner with local communities to counter illegal wildlife trafficking and to protect endangered turtles species’ nests. The EU is also the main development partner supporting Cambodia’s sustainable management of its important fisheries.
Dr Sonja Luz, Vice President, Conservation, Research & Veterinary at WRS said, “It’s very encouraging to see the progress of the project, with nearly 100 Royal Turtles now released back to the wild since 2015. This really is the culmination of efforts by the local authorities, community and various wildlife organisations who have come together, with the goal of saving this species from extinction. We are truly committed to continue working with our many partners in protecting threatened species, such as Cambodia’s Royal Turtle, in the region.”
Mr. Ken Sereyrotha, WCS Country Program Director, concludes: “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, head start and release into the wild”.
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