The Ministry of Environment and World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF Cambodia) are teaming up to breed Siamese crocodile (Crocodylus siamensis) in captivity to increase its numbers in Srepok Wildlife Sanctuary in Mondulkiri province.
Cambodia currently has between 200-400 Siamese crocodiles, the largest number in the world for any one country. The total global population is estimated to be 500-1,000 animals spread across the region, according to ministry spokesman Neth Pheaktra.
During a September 2-4 visit to the Srepok sanctuary in Koh Nhek district, Pheaktra said the ministry and WWF Cambodia are making efforts to stimulate population growth.
“We began our study in 2005. We saw only signs of the animals, but no crocs. Signs included scat, footprints or trails in the mud made by their tails. Then, in September 2021, we began to see the actual baby Siamese crocodiles in the sanctuary, especially along the Srepok river,” he said.
According to Pheaktra, the baby Siamese crocodile has been present in the past in both Phnom Prich and some other wildlife sanctuaries. However, due to threatening factors such as habitat loss, climate change, illegal fishing and worst of all the illegal poaching of crocodile eggs, they were not certain as to whether its population in Srepok remained or lost.
Pheaktra said it was only in September, 2021 that they found the presence of live Siamese crocodiles in Srepok, which they then added to the existing number of known animals in the other sanctuaries.
“The environment ministry and WWF are studying together how we can strengthen the Siamese crocodile population at Srepok Wildlife Sanctuary. The important thing is to strengthen its presence and numbers, which for this place is a priority,” he said.
Citing experts, he said that if the number of Siamese crocodiles is too small, then natural breeding can take too long and waste time because their numbers may not increase quickly enough to outpace losses.
Pheaktra said the notion of a breeding programme was not so strange because Cambodia has already done a lot of the work for other species like the royal turtle (Batagur affinis) and Cantor’s giant soft shell turtle (Pelochelys cantorii), which are both rare species that were successfully bred in captivity and then released into the wild.
“We are studying the breeding of some species such as such as the Bengal florican (Houbaropsis bengalensis), which is one of the rarest species in the world with only 100 remaining in Cambodia. We are studying how to breed them so that we won’t lose them entirely, but we have to breed them scientifically and make sure they are adapted to nature in order for them to survive,” he said.
Pheaktra said Siamese crocodile breeding has already been successfully done in the Kingdom previously by a team of experts, including Fauna & Flora International (FFI) in collaboration with Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS Cambodia) and the environment ministry, which released the captive-bred crocodiles into the Areng area in Koh Kong province.
“This is shaping up to be a successful experience because we already have a place for Siamese crocodiles in the Srepok sanctuary. So I think redeveloping the population in addition to what we have already in nature is a priority. We need to consider the benefits related to the ecological system, natural tourism and the basic virtue of maintaining these rare species,” he said.
Seng Teak, WWF Cambodia country director, said the organisation is working with Srepok conservation group and the ministry on strengthening its population in the area as at least 10 Siamese crocodiles have been sighted in the sanctuary.
“Studies have found that the reproduction of these crocodiles is a bit slow. So, in order to increase its numbers, given that it’s rare and it can attract tourists, we will breed them in the Srepok area,” he said.
He said that a healthier Siamese crocodile population could attract tourists, as the animal would still be very rare nonetheless, and thereby increase revenues for the community and the national budget.
According to Pheaktra, Cambodia has an estimated 200 to 400 Siamese crocodiles, of which about 100 to 200 are thought to be of reproductive age, but the exact numbers are unknown given how elusive they can be.
“The number of Siamese crocodiles in Cambodia is the highest in the world, but there are only between 500 and 1,000 Siamese crocodiles left on the planet. Our country is rich in biodiversity, with about 5,000 species in our wildlife sanctuaries and national parks across a protected area of 7.3 million hectares,” he said.