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Endangered turtle returns to Cambodia

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A turtle of the critically endangered mangrove terrapin species, also known as Batagur. Photograph supplied

A turtle of the critically endangered mangrove terrapin species returned to Cambodia on Friday after spending about 30 years in Vietnam, wildlife experts said yesterday.

The turtle, which had lived in a Ho Chi Minh City park since the 1980s, is one of the few remaining breeding-age female mangrove terrapins, also known as Batagurs, said Gregory Duplant, Wildlife Conservation Society Batagur project technical manager.

“There are less than 10 known female Batagurs in Cambodia,” Duplant said. “That’s why it was really important that we bring back this one.”

WCS and the Fisheries Administration hope that in its new home at the Angkor Centre for Conservation of Biodiversity in Siem Reap the turtle will breed with the one breeding-age male Batagur held in captivity to help replenish the population, which is found mainly in the Sre Ambel river in Koh Kong province.

These turtles were one of the species that in 1980s “were caught every day in the Koh Kong area”, said Heng Sovannara, Fisheries Administration director of conservation and Batagur project manager.

“After that, these species became very rare,” he said, adding it was unclear exactly how the newly repatriated turtle ended up at the Suoi Tien amusement park in Ho Chi Minh City.

When the turtle was taken to Vietnam, it was very young, weighing only 2 kilograms – a fraction of its current 45 kilogram weight, Sovannara said.

Staff at Education of Nature Vietnam first spotted the turtle at the park in 2010, but conservation groups “needed many authorisations” before it could be returned to Cambodia, Duplant said.

Sovannara noted that the hand-off followed a similar transaction in 2005, when Vietnam returned another Batagur that wildlife authorities now monitor with a microchip.

Although Duplant said WCS and the Fisheries Authority have had success rearing 134 juvenile Batagurs in captivity in Sre Ambel, several ongoing threats challenge the survival of the turtles, which can live for 75 to 85 years.

To contact the reporter on this story: Justine Drennan at justine.drennan@phnompenhpost.com

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