The Siamese Crocodile (Crocodylus siamensis) is listed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as a critically endangered species. Of the world’s 23 crocodilians, the Siamese Crocodile is one of the four most threatened with extinction in the wild. Historically, this species was broadly distributed in freshwater habitats of Southeast Asia, from Thailand, Lao PDR, Vietnam and Cambodia to Indonesia, but at present only very small, highly fragmented populations survive. In Lao PDR, the species has been documented in recent years from four southern provinces.The largest relicts occur in Savannakhet and Attapeu Provinces and rival those in Cambodia as the largest in the species’ severely depleted historical range. There is an estimated population of 300 Southeast Asian Crocodiles left in the wild, of which 75 are in Lao PDR and the remainder in Cambodia.
The majority of Lao PDR’s crocodiles thrive in the Xe Champhone Wetlands, which is one of two Ramsar sites in the country. Wetland conservation for crocodiles protects many other species of fauna and flora and serves as an important natural sink of carbon (in the wetland and peatland). Protection of this carbon sink contributes to mitigation of global climate change, by preventing the emission of greenhouse gases.
Habitat at most crocodile sites is seriously threatened by seasonal pumping of water for rice irrigation, overfishing, removal of aquatic vegetation, and isolation caused by intensive agriculture in peripheral wetlands. The fragmented distribution of crocodile habitat presents a formidable barrier to crocodile movement and interaction. Infertile nests and apparent lack of juveniles at two sites suggest that reproductive problems also impede population viability.
The Government of Lao PDR, Wildlife Conservation Society and MMG mining company formed a partnership in 2008 to assess the potential fora multi-phase recovery program that will ensure the long-term survival of the Siamese Crocodile in Lao PDR and establish enduring conservation of wetlands and associated biodiversity in Savannakhet Province. In 2010, implementation of the project began, following the principles of co-management with communities and local government and using a participatory approach to engagement and establishment of sanctuaries and activities. Thus far, the project has worked with communities to create a crocodile conservation zone, training villagers and officials how to monitor crocodile populations using GPS units and forms, and patrol the conservation area and nests regularly. The project has successfully hatched 40 wild crocodile eggs in captivity, some of which are being taken care of by the communities themselves. Some of the hatchlings were reintroduced into the wild in March 2013. The project has also worked on improving local livelihoods by improving irrigation systems for rice farmers and developing a community-based ecotourism program.