PHNOM PENH — Conservationists say they have transferred more than 200 of the nearly extinct Royal Turtles to a new purpose-built breeding and conservation center, easing fears the rare species will disappear in Cambodia.
“Cambodia’s national reptile is facing a high risk of extinction.”
In a statement Tuesday, the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society said 206 Royal Turtles have been released into the facility, the Koh Kong Reptile Conservation Center, in western Cambodia.
The center is a joint effort between the government’s fisheries department and the society.
“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 to be used for conserving the turtles in the center,” Ross Sinclair, the society’s country director for Cambodia, said in the statement.
The Royal Turtle is one of the world’s 25 most endangered tortoises and freshwater turtles. Also known as the Southern River Terrapin, the Royal Turtle is so named because in historical times only the royal family could consume its eggs.
The species was designated as Cambodia’s national reptile in 2005.
It was believed extinct in Cambodia until 2000 when a small population was rediscovered. Since 2001, a joint project between the government and conservation society has saved 39 nests with a total of 564 eggs that resulted in 382 hatchlings. The hatchlings are raised in captivity and later released into the wild.
Eng Mengey, a society spokesman, said by telephone from Koh Kong province where the center is located that it consists of five big ponds with grass and sand banks for the resettled turtles to nest.
“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,” said Ouk Vibol, director of Fisheries Conservation Department.
“By protecting nests and head starting the hatchlings, we are increasing the chances of survival for this important species for Cambodia,” he said.
Story: Sopheng Cheang