In a bid to preserve one of the world’s rarest and largest fresh water turtles, the Wildlife Conservation Society and Fisheries Administration plan to release 200 Cantor’s giant softshell turtle hatchlings into the Mekong River in Kratie province’s Kampong Cham commune on May 25.
Leak Ratna, WCS communications manager, yesterday said the giant softshell turtle is currently classified as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The species is placed on the IUCN red list of threatened species due to natural causes as well as human activities, including the capture of the turtles for food and cross-border trade.
“So, WCS in collaboration with the Cambodian Fisheries Administration aims to conserve Cantor’s giant softshell turtles by protecting their nests and releasing them into the Mekong River in order to prevent them from extinction,” Mr Ratna said.
According to Mr Ratna, the hatchlings set to be released are the result of conservations efforts by WCS and Cambodia’s Fisheries Administration, which include nest protection programmes.
“We have created a working team to search for the nests of these turtles along the Mekong River. So, when we see a nest, we deploy forces to protect it day and night until the turtle hatchlings emerge. After the hatchlings emerge, we look after them in a cage and later release them into the river,” he said.
The release of the hatchlings will take place on Saturday to mark World Turtle Day that annually falls on May 23. The species are released into the river as its natural habitat.
“The program is also a message to the public to join in the conservation efforts, because the Cantor’s giant softshell turtle belongs to the nation. We especially appeal to the people in the local areas where the turtles live to know that the Cantor’s giant softshell turtle is facing serious threat, as some people have taken the opportunity to trade turtles by selling them to restaurants and abroad,” Mr Ratna said.
Eng Cheasan, director-general of the Fisheries Administration, could not be reached for comment yesterday.
According to WCS, the Cantor’s giant softshell turtle was rediscovered in 2007 by a group of conservationists who spotted the species along a 48-kilometre stretch of the Mekong River spanning from Kratie to Stung Treng province.
In April, WCS’s conservationists and Fisheries Administration officials also released more than 500 hatchlings into the Mekong River in Kratie. Since its rediscovery in 2007 until earlier this year, more than 1,000 of the species have been released into the river.