A wildlife research team from the Ministry of Environment and World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF-Cambodia) confirmed that they spotted eight Siamese crocodile hatchlings (Crocodylus siamensis) on September 9 in Srepok Wildlife Sanctuary of Mondulkiri province. Siamese crocodiles are a critically endangered species.
According to a joint press statement on September 21, the team obtained the first photographic evidence of a Siamese crocodile breeding population in the area after more than a decade of research efforts under the management of the ministry and WWF Cambodia’s support within the sanctuary, a protected area situated in the eastern plains of the Kingdom.
The team was conducting a survey as part of a Siamese crocodile research programme under the ministry -led CAMPAS project funded by UN Environment Programme (UNEP) with additional funding from WWF-Belgium.
The statement said the reptile hatchlings remain safe in their wild habitat under the strict protection of environment ministry rangers assigned to the sanctuary.
“During the hatching season this year, the research team carried out regular field monitoring and for this particular trip we spent four nights scouting the crocodile habitat locations from 7pm until around 2am to try to observe them,” said Sothea Bun, one of the research team members.
“The exciting moment came when one of our team members first spotted the eye-shine of the crocodile hatchlings,” Sothea continued.
Environment minister Say Sam Al said the discovery highlights the importance of the Srepok wilderness area as a hotspot with a high potential for reversing biodiversity losses and for the successful restoration of globally significant wildlife.
“It is such rewarding news for the conservation cooperation done between the Cambodian environment ministry, WWF, NGO partners and especially all members of the ministry’s and WWF’s research team, whose efforts finally paid off with this first formal confirmation of the Srepok’s breeding population,” he said.
Sam Al continued that the exciting news demonstrates the importance of Cambodia for the conservation of this extremely rare crocodile and other important species.
“Cambodia is home to unique natural resources, representing a true source of national pride for all the people,” he said.
WWF-Cambodia’s biodiversity research and monitoring manager Milou Groenenberg said this development can be considered a breakthrough in the study of the species in Srepok as reports of breeding populations from many years ago were unconfirmed and this is the first time photographic evidence of the hatchlings has been collected.
“We were previously uncertain if the resident population still contained breeding pairs or if any nests existed or if any clutches successfully hatched.
“The Srepok discovery indeed raises hope for Siamese crocodile conservation and survival in the wild and it is a significant finding for the species in Cambodia and globally,” she said.
According to the press release, the Siamese crocodile was once widespread across Southeast Asia but disappeared from much of its range by the early 1990s. Cambodia is the last remaining stronghold for the species, with an estimated 200-400 individuals remaining in the wild. The total global population does not exceed more than 1,000 mature animals.
The key threats the Siamese crocodile faces are habitat loss and degradation, poaching fuelled by the illegal wildlife trade and formerly to supply crocodile farms, hybridisation with other crocodile species, hydropower dams and destructive illegal fishing methods, the statement said.
WWF-Cambodia and the ministry vowed to continue their conservation efforts and law enforcement activities to protect the crocodile and other species.
“I would like to urge all stakeholders involved to undertake the collective and urgent actions needed to protect the Siamese crocodile from extinction and ensure its numbers can recover for future survival.
“The environment ministry stands ready to work with all international non-governmental organisations, community groups and other partners to protect and preserve Cambodia’s natural forests and wildlife heritage for the long-term socio-economic benefits of current and future generations,” Sam Al said.