71 Royal Turtle eggs in five clutches were laid on an artificial sand bank at the Koh Kong Reptile Conservation Center (KKRCC) early last week. Images obtained from camera traps confirmed that the eggs were laid by five head-started Royal Turtles. This is the first time that Royal Turtles have laid eggs in captivity in Cambodia. Four of the turtles were head-started from wild nests laid in 2006 on the Sre Ambel River, and one was handed over to the KKRCC by people from Koh Kong town in 2017.

“It’s the first time that the captive female Royal Turtles have ever laid eggs since they were head-started at the Center in 2006,” said Som Sitha, WCS Koh Kong and Mekong Conservation Project Manager. “The team will make artificial nests for incubation purposes or leave them as they are.”

Steven G. Platt, Associate Conservation Herpetologist for WCS in Southeast Asia said, “This is an incredibly exciting and important event, given the extreme rarity of this species in the wild. Captive breeding is a conservation milestone for the recovery of the Royal Turtle in Cambodia. We anticipate soon being able to produce large numbers of Royal Turtles in captivity and releasing them back into the wild.”

Dr Sonja Luz, Vice President, Conservation, Research & Veterinary, Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS), said, “WRS is excited to be part of another major conservation milestone for the species. 2021 has got off to a great start for the Royal Turtles, following the release of 10 specimens back to the wild earlier this year.  It is encouraging to see the work of our partners come to fruition, despite the ongoing pandemic, and to celebrate the achievements together. This is testament to the dedication of the many partners involved to ensure continued conservation efforts to protect the species.”

Mr. Ouk Vibol- Director of Department of Fisheries Conservation said, “We are very proud to get this great result. We strongly encourage and support the continuation of this research activities for better result in the future and we hope this species will survive for our next generation.”

WCS Cambodia has been working with Fisheries Administration (FiA) of Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) since 2000 to conserve the Critically Endangered Southern River Terrapin Batagur affinis, also known as Royal Turtle in Cambodia. After rediscovering the species in 2000 in the Sre Ambel River system, Southwest Cambodia, WCS started the nest protection program by recruiting former egg collectors to become the turtle nest protectors. In 2006, a head-starting facility was built in Koh Kong’s Sre Ambel district to accommodate hatchlings collected from the field. Each year all of the hatchlings are transferred to the KKRCC, Cambodia’s only dedicated turtle conservation facility, which was established in 2016.  WRS is one of the key partners, providing funding to the project.

KKRCC currently holds 192 Royal Turtles. 96 young adult Royal Turtles have been released back into the wild since 2015, and we plan to release another 50 turtles later in 2021. Sub-adult and adult turtles at the KKRCC are kept in four breeding ponds, whilst younger animals are raised in large plastic tanks before transferal to the breeding ponds.