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23 rare Royal Turtles hatch in natural habitat in SW Cambodia

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Twenty-three Cambodia’s nearly-extinct Royal Turtles have hatched from their nests in the Sre Ambel River in southwest Koh Kong province this year, a conservationist group said on Tuesday.

The number of the species hatchlings this year was more than the total number hatched in the previous three years combined, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) in Cambodia said in a press statement.

The 23 hatchlings were from three Royal Turtle nests, found and protected by a community nest protection team on two sand beaches along the river, the statement said, adding that among the total of 51 eggs, 23 eggs hatched and it is not known why the other eggs failed.

WCS attributed this success to conservation efforts by the local community, the ban on sand dredging along the river and the inclusion of the river as a fisheries management and conservation area for Royal Turtle and Siamese Crocodile, it said.

“This increase in the number of hatchlings shows that conservationists, working with local communities and government partners, can achieve measurable conservation successes,” Ken Sereyrotha, WCS country program director said.

“With ongoing support and cooperation, we are hopeful that the number of Royal Turtles will continue to increase in the coming years,” he added.

The Royal Turtle, also known as Southern River Terrapin (Batagur affinis), is one of the world’s 25 most threatened freshwater turtles and tortoises, the statement said, adding that it is listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List as critically endangered and was designated as Cambodia’s National Reptile by a Royal Decree issued in 2005.

Ouk Vibol, director of Fisheries Conservation Department of the Fisheries Administration, said he was really happy that the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries issued an edict last year to ban all fishing and sand dredging activities along the river.

“The Fisheries Administration actively worked with WCS to conserve Royal Turtles through habitat and beach protection, research and monitoring, nest protection program, establishment of fishery communities, and improvement of community’s livelihood,” he said.

The Royal Turtle was believed extinct in Cambodia until 2000 when a small population was rediscovered by the Fisheries Administration and WCS in the Sre Ambel River, the statement said, adding that after the discovery, WCS initiated a community-based nest protection program which employed former egg collectors to search for and protect nests, instead of harvesting them.

(XINHUA)

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