Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Royal turtle’s survival ‘at risk’




Royal turtle’s survival ‘at risk’

A critically endangered southern river terrapin pictured in Koh Kong province. WCS
A critically endangered southern river terrapin pictured in Koh Kong province. WCS

Royal turtle’s survival ‘at risk’

There may be “fewer than 10” breeding female royal turtles left in Cambodia, a conservation group that monitors the critically endangered species warned yesterday.

Cambodia’s national reptile, the royal turtle, also known as the southern river terrapin (Batagur affinis), faces threats against “its very survival due to habitat loss caused by increased sand dredging and illegal clearance of flooded forest”, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), a US-based group with an active branch in Cambodia, said in a press release.

The turtle, now believed to exist only along the Sre Ambel River in Koh Kong province, has long been among the world’s most endangered turtle species.

“These forest habitats are key for their survival, providing shelter and diverse food for their diet,” explained Som Sitha, a technical adviser with WSC’s Sre Ambel Conservation Project.

“Sand dredging is further threatening their survival. It causes so much river bank erosion . . . destroying nesting beaches and devastating [wetland] forest, which is the source of their food,” he said.

According to Sarah Brook, another WSC technical adviser, the turtles lay their eggs along riverbanks, which can be ruined by sand dredging. “[Dredging] can really change the structure and sediment load of the river,” she added.

Brook added that while a previous WSC and Fisheries Administration (FiA) search had found four royal turtle nests by May of last year, a team looking this year had only found one so far. “[It’s] a big reduction given how rare they are already,” she said.

Prime Minister Hun Sen banned sand dredging in 2011 after public outcry over its environmental impacts. Since then, however, a small number of firms have continued to operate under specific licences granted by the Ministry of Mines and Energy.

Ministry spokesman Dit Tina yesterday said there are currently four firms with dredging licences in Koh Kong.

“The granting of licences has been made based on environmental assessments and evaluations. What [firms] are doing right now [in Koh Kong] is under license,” he said, adding that his ministry had a hotline that locals could call to report illegal dredging.

Thun Rotha, an environmental activist in Koh Kong with the NGO Mother Nature, said he has recently witnessed a lot of sand dredging along the Sre Ambel River. He said he had queried Tina’s ministry for information on the dredging firms to no avail.

Three environmental activists affiliated with his NGO have been imprisoned since August for protesting against sand dredging in Koh Kong.

The royal turtle, so named because Khmer royalty used to claim exclusivity over eating its eggs, were assumed extinct until 2000, when biologists from WCS and FiA discovered small numbers in the Sre Ambel.

The next year, they started a community-based protection program that pays former poachers there to search for and protect nests, instead of harvesting eggs. WCS and FiA currently employ eight nest protectors, who Sith said are paid $90 to $180 a month.

Last year, 21 turtles were fitted with acoustic transmitters, which researchers use to track their movements. Three were found 97 kilometres from where they were released in a different river system, said Brook, which suggested that “they occupy a larger range than we expected, and thus we need to increase the area we work in to ensure they are protected.”

As her organisation's letter put it, “Urgent action is needed or the Royal Turtle will disappear forever.”

MOST VIEWED

  • School reopening to be postponed until November

    Minister of Education Hang Chuon Naron on Tuesday wrote to Prime Minister Hun Sen requesting a delay of school reopening across the Kingdom until November, when the new academic year begins. In his letter, Chuon Naron said the postponement is warranted to avoid the new

  • Foreigners in Kingdom must now register in FPCS system

    The Ministry of Interior’s General Department of Immigration (GDI) announced that it would not grant visa extensions to foreigners staying in Cambodia if their names are not listed on the Foreigners Present in Cambodia System (FPCS) by July 1. Foreign nationals can register in the

  • Covid-19 at ‘alarming rate’, health ministry says

    The Covid-19 risk level for individual transmission is at an “alarming rate” in the Kingdom and its probability is “not low”, warned Health Ministry spokesperson Or Vandine. “Cambodia’s coronavirus scenario is classified as being at an early stage of the pandemic because of ongoing

  • Mandatory quarantine for 30,000 workers begins

    Some of the roughly 30,000 workers from factories and enterprises across the Kingdom who went on leave during Khmer New Year began their government-imposed 14-day quarantine on Monday. Speaking at a press conference while visiting workers at the Phnom Penh Special Economic Zone on Monday, Ministry

  • Unemployed to get $40 per month

    The Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training has instructed enterprises, business owners and travel agencies in five provinces to prepare the proper forms for the suspension of employment contracts. This, it said, will make it easier for the ministry to transfer $40 a month to workers

  • Gov’t travel ban flouted

    While the majority of Cambodians have paid heed to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s order to stay put and not travel during the Khmer New Year – the holidays of which were also postponed – several hundred have left Phnom Penh nonetheless. They have allegedly breached provincial

  • G20 energy ministers struggle to finalise oil output cuts

    Top oil producers struggled to finalise production cuts during a virtual summit held by Group of 20 (G20) energy ministers on Friday, despite US President Donald Trump’s mediation efforts to end a standoff with Mexico. The final G20 communique appeared to gloss over simmering divisions

  • Kingdom revises travel restriction order

    The government on Friday eased the district and provincial border restrictions issued on Thursday. People are now allowed to cross districts within their provinces. Phnom Penh and Kandal province are to be treated as a single region where people are allowed to travel freely. In

  • Private schools struggling

    The Cambodian Higher Education Association has claimed that 113 private educational establishments are facing bankruptcy because of their inability to pay rent and staff salaries in light of nationwide school closures caused by the Covid-19 outbreak. It said the financial trouble started when the Ministry of

  • Khmer New Year holidays postponed

    In an effort to halt Covid-19 infections in the Kingdom, Prime Minister Hun Sen has postponed the Khmer New Year holidays scheduled from April 13 to 16. While the people will not have their usual break, nor will there be any public celebrations or gatherings at pagodas,