The Agriculture Ministry and two NGOs on Friday released 20 critically endangered royal turtles back into their natural habitat in Koh Kong province.
They were released during a ceremony organised by the ministry and Wildlife Conservation Society in Cambodia in collaboration with Wildlife Reserves Singapore.
The turtles were released into the Sre Ambel river system in the province’s Dong Peng commune after being nurtured in the centre for years.
It was the fourth release of royal turtles into the Sre Ambel river following releases involving a total of 86 turtles in 2015, 2017 and last year.
Srun Limsong, deputy director of the Agriculture Ministry’s Fisheries Administration, said during the event that the release is the result of about two decades of turtle nest protection, care for the young turtles in the Koh Kong Reptile Conservation Centre and community-based protection of turtles in the Sre Ambel river.
“We greatly appreciate the participation of the local authorities, communities, people, the WCS and partners who have been helping to restore these endangered species to this natural water territory,” Mr Limsong said.
He said that all stakeholders should continue to recover the population of the royal turtles and that wildlife traffickers must be prosecuted.
WCS technical advisor Som Sitha said during the event that the 20 royal turtles were collected to be cared for by the conservation groups after they hatched in their nests along the Sre Ambel river in Koh Kong and Preah Sihanouk provinces in 2006 and 2007.
“This species of turtle is one of the world’s 25 most endangered tortoises and freshwater turtles, listed on IUCN Red List as Critically Endangered, and was designated Cambodia’s National Reptile by royal decree in 2005,” Mr Sitha noted.
A WCS press statement on Friday said illegal fishing, over-exploitation and sand exploitation along the Sre Ambel river system in Koh Kong and Preah Sihanouk provinces have affected the habitats and fertilisation of these turtle as they are facing extinction.
Sonja Luz, WRS director of conservation and research, said that the release is a great example to show how to protect this rare species from extinction, with the government, local communities and wildlife conservation organisations working together to save them.
“We observe that very few of these turtles remain in the natural habitat and WRS pledges to further support efforts to conserve Cambodia’s royal turtles and work with our partners to increase their numbers in their natural habitat,” she said.