Kratie, Cambodia (21 June 2017) – WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society), in collaboration with Cambodia’s Fisheries Administration (FiA) and the Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA), released 150 Endangered Asian giant softshell turtle (Pelochelys cantorii) hatchlings into their natural habitat along the Mekong River.
The hatchlings are part of a community protection program designed to increase the wild population of the species, and had been collected from nests that were guarded by local communities.
The Asian giant softshell turtle is listed on the IUCN Red List as globally Endangered. It was thought extinct in the Cambodian portion of the Mekong River until re-discovery in 2007 in a 48-kilometer stretch of the river between Kratie and Stung Treng Provinces.
“The purpose of this release is to increase the wild population of the Asian giant softshell turtle,” said Mr. Sun Yoeung, WCS’s Asian Giant Softshell Turtle Conservation Project Coordinator. “As the project pays local people as guardians and rangers, the release will also increase local incomes and encourage the support and involvement of local communities in conserving the species.”
The release is part of a project that has been ongoing since 2007, formerly run by Conservation International (CI), and now by WCS in collaboration with the FiA and TSA. The community-based protection program encourages the participation of local communities living in Kratie and Stung Treng Provinces by hiring former nest collectors to search for and protect nests, instead of harvesting the eggs. Since 2007, 329 nests have been protected and 7,709 hatchlings released.
“Protection is needed to conserve the Asian giant softshell turtle from extinction,” said Mr Ouk Vibol, Director of Fisheries Conservation Department of Fisheries Administration. “Collection of eggs or adults for consumption or sale is illegal in Cambodia. Everyone can help conserve Asian giant softshell turtles by not buying or eating their meat or eggs.”
WCS works to save turtles and tortoises around the world. In 2012, WCS launched an organization-wide program to revive some of the most endangered turtle and tortoise species. Efforts include breeding programs at WCS’s zoos in New York, head start programs abroad, and working with governments and communities to save species on the brink of extinction.
Conservation of the Asian giant softshell turtle along the Mekong River would not be possible without the support of the Turtle Survival Alliance, Conservation International, and the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF). The Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund is a joint initiative of l’Agence Française de Développement, Conservation International, the European Union, the Global Environment Facility, the Government of Japan, the Macarthur Foundation, and the World Bank. A fundamental goal is to ensure civil society is engaged in biodiversity conservation.