Cambodia’s population of critically-endangered Royal Turtles has received a boost after 51 of the near-extinct species were released into a river in Preah Sihanouk province.
On November 26, the Royal Turtles were released into Sre Ambel River in Chamkar Luong commune, Kampong Seila district as part of a EU-funded project carried out in partnership with Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and local communities to counter illegal wildlife trafficking and protect Cambodia’s endangered species.
The release was the result of tireless work carried out by WCS to collect the extinct species. This includes 31 female and 20 male turtles, aged 6- to 15-years-old. Each turtle had a microchip inserted in its shell and was fitted with an acoustic transmitter to enable their movements to be tracked through the river system.
Som Sitha, WCS Landscape Project Manager, said the turtles have been cared for and prepared for life in the wild.
Poum Sotha, Delegate of the Royal Government of Cambodia and Director General of Fisheries Conservation, said: “We highly appreciate the participation of local authorities, the community and WCS team, who have been working together to conserve critically-endangered turtles so 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,” he added.
Listed on the IUCN Red List as Critically Endangered, the Royal Turtle is among the world’s 25 most endangered tortoises and freshwater turtles. In 2005, a Royal Decree designated the Royal Turtle as Cambodia’s national reptile.
It was believed the Royal Turtle was extinct in Cambodia until 2000, when a small population was rediscovered by the Fisheries Administration (FiA) and WCS in the Sre Ambel River.
“With the increasing number of adults in the wild through this release, we do hope this species will breed in the wild and annual nests will increase in the next few years,” WCS Country Program Director, Ken Sereyrotha, said.
The release is the result of nearly two decades of turtle nest protection, head-starting of the young turtles at Koh Kong Reptile Conservation Centre, and community-based protection of turtles in the Sre Ambel River.
This marks the sixth release of Royal Turtles into the Sre Ambel River system since 2015. Since then, a total of 147 turtles have been returned to the wild.