Twenty-three Royal Turtles hatched from nests on the Sre Ambel River this year. This is more than the total number hatched in the previous three years combined.
The 23 hatchlings were from three Royal Turtle nests found and protected by a community nest protection team on two sand beaches along Sre Ambel River system in Koh Kong Province. One of the nests was found on a beach used every year by the turtles, while the other two nests were found on a beach not used by turtles for nesting since 2007. Of the total of 51 eggs only 23 eggs hatched, it is not known why the other eggs failed.
WCS attributes this success to conservation efforts by local community and the release of the guidelines and Prakas [ministry proclamation] dated July 10, 2017 by the Ministry of Mines and Energy on the resolution to stop all sand dredging along the Sre Ambel River System. Another proclamation, Prakas No. 133 dated March 6, 2019 by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries called for the inclusion of Sre Ambel River System as a Fisheries Management and Conservation Area for Royal Turtle and Siamese Crocodile.
Said Ken Sereyrotha, WCS Country Program Director: “This increase in the number of hatchlings shows that conservationists, working with local communities and government partners, can achieve measurable conservation successes. With ongoing support and cooperation, we are hopeful that the number of turtles will continue to increase in the coming years.”
The Royal Turtle, scientifically known as Southern River Terrapin (Batagur affinis), is one of the world’s 25 most threatened freshwater turtles and tortoises. It is listed on the IUCN Red List as Critically Endangered, and was designated as Cambodia’s National Reptile by a Royal Decree issued in 2005 and is protected by sub-decree No. 123 dated August 12, 2009—a fishery resource endangered in Cambodia.
Mr. Ouk Vibol, Director of Fisheries Conservation Department of Fisheries Administration, Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries said: “I am really happy that MAFF issued the Prakas No. 133 which will not allow all illegal fishing, especially illegal sand dredging activities along the Rivers of Kampong Som, Prek Kaaong and Kampong Leu. ”
Mr. Vibol added that the Fisheries Administration actively worked with WCS to conserve Royal Turtles through habitat and beach protection, research and monitoring, nest protection program, establishment of fishery communities, and improvement of community’s livelihood.
The European Union (EU) is funding a wildlife conservation project, in which WCS and the Fisheries Administration partner to counter wildlife trafficking and to protect Royal Turtles’ nests. The EU is also the main partner supporting Cambodia’s sustainable management of its important fisheries.
Said European Union Ambassador Carmen Moreno: “This increase in hatching of Royal Turtles is great news for this critically endangered flagship species. We congratulate the Royal Government and WCS for their efforts in protecting them, thus highlighting how important it is to protect Cambodia’s rich biodiversity.”
The turtle was believed extinct in Cambodia until 2000 when a small population was re-discovered by Fisheries Administration and WCS in the Sre Ambel River. After the discovery, WCS initiated a community-based nest protection program which employed former egg collectors to search for and protect nests, instead of harvesting them.
The nest protection program continues to be implemented by WCS in collaboration with Community Fisheries in Sre Ambel district of Koh Kong province and Kampong Seila district of Preah Sihanouk Province and Fisheries Administration since 2003.
Said Dr Sonja Luz, Director, Conservation & Research, and Veterinary Services, Wildlife Reserves Singapore: “We are incredibly pleased to see the positive impact this partnership has on the population of the Royal Turtles in their natural environment. The increase in hatchlings is an indication that our efforts are starting to bear fruit. We look forward to continuing this partnership with the various stakeholders to support the conservation of these critically endangered turtles.”
Royal Turtle conservation would not be possible without financial support from the European Union, Wildlife Reserves Singapore, US Forest Service, Rainforest Trust, and Turtle Survival Alliance.