Five endangered royal turtles raised at the Koh Kong Reptile Conservation Centre (KKRCC) have now laid 71 eggs – marking the first time this particular species of turtle has ever laid eggs while in captivity at the centre – according to a press release from the Wildlife Conservation Society Cambodia (WCS Cambodia).

The royal turtle is the official national reptile of Cambodia.

Leak Ratna, an official from WCS Cambodia, said that in the past two weeks the five turtles had laid 71 eggs on the artificial beach at the KKRCC. He said all of the eggs were laid by the group of royal turtles that the team had brought to raise at the centre 10 years ago.

“Back then the team had gotten four of these five female royal turtles from the beaches of the Sre Ambel River after they hatched from the nests of wild turtles. One of the five turtles was found by people from Koh Kong province in 2017 and brought to our centre by them,” Ratna said.

Som Sitha, WCS Cambodia’s Koh Kong and Mekong Conservation Project Manager, said the successful incubation of these turtles could not be confirmed until the team has had more time to observe them.

“This is the first time that our female royal turtles have ever laid eggs in captivity since they were hatched at the centre in 2006. The team is considering whether to make artificial nests for incubation purposes or whether to just leave them as they are now,” he said.

Steven G Platt, a WCS Cambodia expert on wildlife, said the fact that this rare species of turtles had managed to spawn in captivity and laid a large number of eggs was an unbelievably important thing for the breeding and ultimate survival of royal turtles.

Platt said breeding these turtles in captivity was crucial to saving the species from extinction.

Royal turtle eggs in five clutches were laid on an artificial sand bank at the Koh Kong Reptile Conservation Centre (KKCC) last month. WCS Cambodia

“We anticipate soon being able to produce large numbers of royal turtles in captivity and then releasing them back into the wild,” Platt explained.

Dr Sonja Luz, vice-president of Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS) said her organisation is excited to be part of another major conservation milestone for this rare species.

“This new result is encouraging and we’re thrilled to see the work of our partners come to fruition despite the ongoing global pandemic,” she said.

Ouk Vibol, director of the Department of Fisheries Conservation, said there was real hope now for restoration of the royal turtle to the wild.

“I strongly encourage and support the continuation of these research activities because there is now a definite possibility that this species will survive in the wild and that Cambodia’s future generations can see them in person instead of just in old pictures,” he said.

According to the WCS Cambodia press release, KKRCC currently has 192 royal turtles being cared for at the centre. An additional 96 young adult royal turtles have already been released back into the wild since 2015. The team plans to release another 50 turtles later this year.