Conservationists Discover Nest of One of World’s Rarest Turtles
The royal turtle eggs found by the Wildlife Conservation Society. Wildlife Conservation Society / Facebook
Conservationists have found a nest of a critically endangered turtle with 16 eggs along the Sre Ambel River system near Preah Angkeo village in Cambodia’s Koh Kong province, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) announced Monday.
This is the first nest of the southern river terrapin discovered this year. Four local community rangers have been hired to guard the nest until the eggs hatch.
Known locally as the “royal turtle,” the reptiles got its name because it was historically considered a delicacy reserved for the Cambodian royal family. It was designated as the country’s national reptile in 2005.
The turtles were believed to be extinct until its re-discovery in the river in 2000. Only three nests were found in the last two years.
The southern river terrapin is currently listed on IUCN’s Red List as critically endangered. The rare species has been “pushed to the brink of extinction largely due to unsustainable harvesting of eggs and adults. Consequently, they exist in small isolated populations and there are only a few wild nesting females left in total,” the IUCN said. “Young terrapins are also vulnerable to predators such as water birds and monitor lizards, and to accidental entanglement in fishing gear.”
The royal turtle is one of the world’s 25 most endangered tortoises and freshwater turtles, the WCS noted.
“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 last two years” said Som Sitha, WCS’s technical advisor to the Koh Kong Conservation Project.
“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.
In Hul, an official with the Fisheries Administration and project coordinator, said that the period between January to March is the royal turtle’s breeding period, so the team is working hard to search for its nests along the Sre Ambel River system.
“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 Center where they will be cared for until they are mature and can be released back to the wild,” he said.
“We also conduct outreach so that local villagers living around the river are 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,” he added.