Fresh hopes for royal turtle species’ survival

Heading home: The royal turtles being released into the wild in Preah Sihanouk province. — The Phnom Penh Post/ANN

Fifty-one royal turtles were released into the wild in northern Preah Sihanouk province’s Kampong Seila district by the Wildlife Conservation Society Cambodia Programme (WCS) and relevant government officials.

The event on Friday was accompanied by a ceremony attended by Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries officials, local authorities, WCS representatives, Buddhist monks and locals.

WCS country director Ken Serey Rotha said conservationists had believed royal turtles were extinct in the kingdom, a presumption rebuffed by a study back in 2000.

Also known as the southern river terrapin and by its scientific name Batagur affinis, the royal turtle is listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species as “critically endangered”, and was designated as Cambodia’s national reptile by a 2005 royal decree, according to the NGO.

Serey Rotha noted that Friday’s event marks the sixth of its kind under the associated conservation project, bringing the total number of freed royal turtles from 96 to 147.

He also credited the ministry’s Fisheries Administration for working with WCS on rare species conservation.

Speaking at the ceremony, Kampong Seila district deputy governor Prak Sovann urged commune- and village-level authorities and the general public to join hands in the conservation of royal turtles.

“If we can protect these habitats, they’d provide enchanting eco-tourism spots,” he said.

“Sightseers would visit the royal turtles in their own spaces, as well as the beautiful forests here in Kampong Seila.”

Sovann said he was committed to protecting the species and ensuring viable populations “at all costs”, and called on the public to report trapped turtles to the authorities. — The Phnom Penh Post/ANN

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