Khmer Times/Ven Rathavong Tuesday, 13 September 2016
More than 200 critically endangered royal turtles will be moved to a new center in Koh Kong’s Mondol Seima district today with 13 Siamese crocodiles also being relocated.
Eng Mengey, communications officer for the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), said royal turtles were now facing threats to their survival because of habitat loss.
A total of 206 turtles, including babies, will be transferred to the new center as well as 13 Siamese crocodiles.
He added that the new Koh Kong Reptile Conservation Center was founded by the WCS and Fisheries Administration (FiA).
The royal turtle, also known as the southern river terrapin (Batagur affinis), was designated Cambodia’s national reptile in 2005. It was listed as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature earlier this year and added to their Red List of Threatened Species.
Mr. Mengey said the royal turtle was believed to be extinct in Cambodia until 2000, when the WCS and FiA discovered a small number of the turtles in Koh Kong province’s Sre Ambel district where the river meets the sea.
He said both institutions started protecting turtle nests and collected the babies for conservation at the old center in Sre Ambel district. They will be released into the wild once the turtles are better able to survive.
“We are transferring them to the new center because the old one is small and old and has been used for more than 10 years,” Mr. Mengey said. “The new center is bigger and of higher quality for feeding royal turtles’ babies and crossbreeding.”
He added that the new center, incorporating more natural elements into its design, would become an ecotourism site in the future with revenue being used to support the center.
Mr. Mengey said the turtles are facing threats and loss of habitat because of increased sand dredging, illegal clearance of mangroves and illegal fishing.
Speaking on a boat yesterday near the turtles’ natural habitat, FiA official In Hul told reporters that the river in Sre Ambel district was a unique area in Cambodia that had this kind of turtles.
“At a previous time , we released 21 royal turtles into the wild with installed microchips and GPS transmitters to track their travel in order to protect and conserve these reptiles,” he said, adding that his officials monitored the turtles six days per month.
Mr. Hul confirmed that according to the microchips and GPS transmitters, at least three of those royal turtles have appeared in that zone, traveling about 97 kilometers along the coast and up another river from where they were released. There are now about 40 royal turtles living in this area.
He added that only four countries in the world had this turtle species – Bangladesh, India, Malaysia and Cambodia.
According to today’s press release by the WCS that was seen early by reporters, director of fisheries conservation department of the FiA Ouk Vibol said: “To further protect the species we have constructed a purpose-built center to give Royal Turtles the best start to life possible.
“With very few Royal Turtles left in the wild and many threats to their survival, Cambodia’s national reptile is facing a high risk of extinction.
By protecting nests and head starting the hatchlings, we are increasing the chances of survival for this important species for Cambodia.”