More than 20 critically endangered turtles were released into the wild yesterday after spending the last eight years in a conservation centre.
Som Sitha, the Wildlife Conservation Society’s technical advisor of theo Koh Kong Conservation Project, said the adult turtles were ready to return to their natural habitat in the Sre Ambel river system.
Each of the reptiles was equipped with a GPS device prior to the release.
“Each turtle is about eight-years-old and weighs over ten kilograms,” Mr Sitha said. “There are 13 females and 12 males, because we want these to breed in the wild.”
The royal turtle, or southern river terrapin, has been Cambodia’s national reptile since 2005. It is on the Red List of Threatened Species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
The Sre Ambel River system of Koh Kong’s province is one of the only remaining habitat for the species, which can today only be found in Indonesia, Malaysia and Cambodia.
Its global population is estimated to range between 500 and 700.
In 2015, 21 royal turtles were released with microchips and GPS devices to track their travels and protect them.
“We are optimistic about this release, because 2015 release was a success,” Mr Sitha said. “More than 85 percent of the released turtles are still alive.”
The turtles have been facing threats and loss of habitat due to sand dredging, illegal clearance of mangroves, and illegal fishing.
The government permanently banned sand mining and exports from Koh Kong last July, realizing that the province’s environment could not support large-scale dredging.
Sand mining in Koh Kong posed a risk to the habitat of wildlife, but also caused riverbanks to collapse and destroyed mangrove forests, as well as hurting the livelihoods of local communities.
Since 2000, 187 turtles were released into the wild. However, only the last two releases came with GPS transmitters.