New York  (September 14, 2016) – The WCS ( Wildlife Conservation Society) in partnership with the Fisheries Administration (FiA) has announced that it is transferring 206 of Cambodia’s national reptiles—known as  Royal Turtles—to a new purpose-built breeding and conservation center in Mondol Seima district of Koh Kong province. The new facility will be named the Koh Kong Reptile Conservation Centre.

The Royal Turtle, also known as Southern River Terrapin (Batagur affinis), is one of the world’s most endangered freshwater turtles and is listed on the IUCN Red List as Critically Endangered.

The turtle was believed extinct in Cambodia until 2000 when a small population was re-discovered by FiA and WCS in the Sre Ambel River. A community-based protection program was implemented in Sre Ambel and employs former egg collectors to search for and protect nests, instead of harvesting the eggs. Hatchlings from protected nests are then taken into captivity where they are raised until several years old. Having been “head started,”the turtles are better able to survive once released back into the wild.

“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,” said Mr Ouk Vibol, Director of Fisheries Conservation Department of Fisheries Administration. “To further protect the species we’ve constructed a purpose-built center to give Royal Turtles the best start to life possible.”

 The Royal turtle is now facing threats to its very survival due to habitat loss caused by increased sand dredging, illegal clearance of flooded forest, and illegal fishing. A recent increase in disturbance from dredging along the Sre Ambel River in Koh Kong Province, - the only place where the species is still found in Cambodia - is putting this species at great risk. 

“The new Koh Kong Centre for Reptile Conservation is a joint effort between FiA and WCS to save the Royal Turtle. We hope in time to have other species like Siamese crocodiles at the center, and may even develop it into a site for ecotourism to generate revenue be used for conserving the turtles in the center,” said Dr Ross Sinclair, Country Director of WCS Cambodia Programme.

Notes to Editor:

·         In 2015 WCS and FiA released 21 individuals fitted with transmitters that are currently being monitored. Three such animals recently travelled down the Sre Ambel River, along the coast and up another river system ending up over 97km from where they were released.