A nest containing 16 eggs of the critically endangered royal turtle has been discovered by conservationists from the Fisheries Administration, Wildlife Conservation Society and local communities in Koh Kong province’s Sre Ambel district.
In Hul, a Fisheries Administration official and project coordinator, said the nest was discovered along the Sre Ambel River system near Preah Angkeo village and four local community rangers have been hired to guard it until the eggs hatch.
“From January until March is the royal turtle’s breeding period, so our team is working hard to search for its nests in the Sre Ambel River system,” he said.
“If we find a nest, we will work with the local community to protect it until the eggs hatch and then bring the hatchlings to Koh Kong Reptile Conservation Centre where they will be cared for until they are mature and can be released back to the wild.”
He said his working group also conducted outreach so local villagers living around the river were aware of the importance of the royal turtle, because it is Cambodia’s national reptile and a critically endangered species.
“Collection of eggs or adults for consumption or sale is illegal in Cambodia,” Mr Hul added.
The royal turtle is listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List as critically endangered. The southern river terrapin (Batagur affinis), locally known as the royal turtle, is one of the world’s 25 most endangered tortoises and freshwater turtles.
The royal turtle is so named because in historical times only the royal family could consume its eggs. It was designated as Cambodia’s national reptile by a royal decree issued on March 21, 2005.
WCS’s technical advisor to the Koh Kong conservation project Mom Sitha said that despite success after the species was re-discovered in 2000, the royal turtle is still at high risk of extinction. The number of nests found each year is very low, with just three nests in the past two years.
“Illegal clearance of flooded forest and illegal fishing puts this species at risk. Everyone can help conserve our national reptile by not purchasing or eating their meat and eggs,” he said.
The royal turtle was believed extinct in Cambodia until 2000 when a small population was re-discovered by the Fisheries Administration and WCS in the Sre Ambel River.
In 2001, WCS in partnership with the Fisheries Administration started a community-based protection system in Sre Ambel, hiring former nest collectors to search for and protect nests, instead of harvesting the eggs.