To mark World Turtle Day, WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society) celebrates the conservation of the Critically Endangered Cantor’s giant softshell turtles in Cambodia.

“With continuous support from our donors and good cooperation from the Fisheries Administration (FiA), plus strong commitments of our field staff and community nest protection team, WCS has made significant progress in implementing its project over the past years,” said Ken Sereyrotha, Country Program Director for WCS Cambodia.

“The increase in number of nests and eggs inspired us to put more efforts on the conservation of this critically endangered species,” added Sereyrotha.

In the 2020 nesting season, the community nest protection team found 49 nests with 1,756 eggs. Although this was only 2 nests more than in the 2019 nesting season, the number of eggs was much higher than in recent years. As of May 22nd, 824 baby turtles hatched from 41 nests, of which 657 hatchlings were released into the wild, while the rest were under care for future release. The conservation team await the fate of the remaining eggs, and expect that at least some will hatch.

Mr. Ouk Vibol, Director of the Department of Fisheries Conservation of Fisheries Administration, said: “We highly appreciate the participation of local authorities, community and WCS in the conservation of Critically Endangered turtles so that they can persist in the natural water bodies. All stakeholders should continue their efforts to conserve the threatened species, and those who still trade protected species will face legal action.”

Dr. Sonja Luz, Director, Conservation & Research, and Veterinary Services, Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS) said: “As a wildlife conservation organisation, beyond caring for the animals in our zoological parks, our responsibility also extends to protecting threatened species in the wild. WRS is happy to be able to play our part to support the work of regional conservation partners like WCS Cambodia in ensuring a future for the Cantor’s giant softshell turtles in the wild.”

Cantor’s giant softshell turtle, Pelochelys cantorii is classified as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Only a few records of the species exist in Laos and other countries, and it has disappeared across much of its former range in Vietnam and Thailand owing to poaching and trade of adult turtles and illegal collection of their eggs for food. In Cambodia, it was not observed in the wild by scientists between 2003 and 2007, until it was found on the Mekong River in between Kratie and Stung Treng.  WCS and FiA have been working to conserve the species since 2017 through disrupting the illegal capture and trade in freshwater turtles, a community-based nest protection program, and support to Community Fisheries and community development.

WCS’s conservation of Cantor’s giant softshell turtle is funded by the European Union, Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS), Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies, USFWS, and Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA).