The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF-Cambodia) and the Ministry of Environment are planning increased efforts to conserve Siamese crocodiles within the Srepok Wildlife Sanctuary in Mondulkiri province.
WWF-Cambodia’s biodiversity research and monitoring manager Milou Groenenberg said on January 19 that police have stepped up law enforcement efforts to prevent the collection of crocodile eggs and are also cracking down on illegal fishing in the area.
Groenenberg said the most dangerous activities threatening the Siamese crocodile are people hunting them for their skin and meat and those who try to catch them for private farms for breeding.
She said another problem is destruction of their habitat due to the building of hydropower dams upstream such as Sesan and Don Sahong. The opening and closing of dams too quickly is problematic as it causes the waters to recede or rise too quickly thereby disrupting the crocodile’s habitat.
“There are so few Siamese crocodiles left in the wild that they are considered critically endangered and on the verge of extinction. We are gathering more information about their presence [in Srepok Wildlife Sanctuary] specifically so that we can work with the authorities and talk about ways to conserve them more effectively before they are gone,” she said.
Groenenberg added that the entire population of Siamese crocodiles in Cambodia was estimated to be 200 to 300 in total remaining in the wild.
Along the Srepok River experts have recently spotted more than 20 signs of their presence like tracks or stool but they have not seen any actual crocodiles so the precise extent of their presence in the area remains unclear.
Environment ministry spokesman Neth Pheaktra said Cambodia was thought to have the most Siamese crocodiles left in the world with populations in the Cardamom Mountains, Areng Valley in Koh Kong province and the Srepok River in Mondulkiri province.
He said the wild animals under the most serious threat of extinction in Cambodia included Siamese crocodiles, along with birds like the Bengal florican, Giant ibis, and three different species of vulture, as well as several ungulate – four-legged hoofed mammalian – species such as the Banteng.
Pheaktra said the ministry has been cooperating with wildlife-conservation-focused development partners like WWF-Cambodia to promote sustainable development and stable conservation in order to protect these species from extinction.
“Recently, we have seen another new possibility – breeding. If we rely on them to breed in nature, it is slow and there are many challenges now [due to small population numbers and loss of habitat]. So breeding them in captivity and releasing them in the wild is an idea we are exploring,” he said.
A ranger from the Srepok Wildlife Sanctuary, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to comment, said he had participated in conservation efforts in the wildlife sanctuary for years and has never seen a Siamese crocodile, though he had spotted their tracks and stool along the sandy beach at the edge of the Srepok River when the waters receded.
He welcomes the arrival of the WWF-Cambodia experts and hopes they study the presence of the crocodiles in the river in detail so that it might be possible to conserve them throughout the entire Srepok Wildlife Sanctuary.
“When I go on patrol, I have never met a Siamese crocodile in person – but I have seen signs of their presence like their tracks. We just don’t really know how many Siamese crocodiles are left in the Srepok River so they should try to find out and hopefully they can then lay out some plans for us to protect them,” he said.