To mark World Turtle Day on May 23, 2022, Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) in collaboration with Fisheries Administration celebrates the conservation of the Critically Endangered Cantor’s Giant Softshell Turtles in Cambodia, by releasing 580 hatchlings into the wild​ along the Mekong River in Sambour district of Kratie province​.

“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 conserving this critically endangered turtle species over the past years,” said Ken Sereyrotha, Country Program Director for WCS Cambodia. “However, this species is being threatened by illegal hunting and trafficking. In 2021, at least nine individuals were seen trading online and two were found dead by illegal fishing,” he said.

In the 2022 nesting season, the community nest protection team found 63 nests with 2,155 eggs. From early March to 20th May 2022, 982 baby turtles hatched from 40 nests, of which 402 hatchlings were released into the wild, while the rest were released today. The conservation team await the fate of the remaining eggs, and they are hopeful that these remaining nests will show positive results. In the 2021 nesting season, the team found 66 nests with 2,528 eggs and released 1,300 hatchlings into the wild.​

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.”

“Cambodia has an incredible wealth of species and habitats. The Giant Softshell Turtles is one of the species that need protection urgently. Joint conservation efforts of communities, authorities and WCS should continue, to help the wild population to recover,” said Clemens Beckers, representative of the EU Delegation in Cambodia. “We all have a common goal of saving this species from extinction, and the EU remains committed to working with our partners to achieve this,” he continued.

Sharing the same deep pools along the Mekong River with Irrawaddy Dolphin and Mekong Giant Stingray, Cantor’s Giant Softshell Turtle is truely an iconic species in the Mekong River. The release of this flagship species will play a significant role in marking the return of one of the giant freshwater species from the brink of extinction.

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- Partners against Wildlife Crime Project, Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies, and Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA).