Fauna & Flora International (FFI) said that 25 Siamese crocodiles (Crocodylus siamensis) were released into the wild, with each of the reptiles fitted with an acoustic transmitter – the first time the species has been tracked in this way.

According to a April 4 press release, FFI – in partnership with the Cambodian Forestry Administration – released them in the Chhay Reap area of the Cardamom Mountains earlier in March.

“Three of the largest crocodiles were also fitted with satellite tags, allowing conservationists to collect vital data about the species’ range and behaviour,” the press release said.

It added that that tagging and health checks before release took place at the Phnom Tamao conservation breeding facility, managed by FFI and the Forestry Administration, in Takeo province.

It went on to say that the carefully-managed release represents a massive boost to the survival chances of the critically endangered reptile, which was feared extinct until its rediscovery in the remote Cardamom Mountains two decades ago.

FFI said the success of this ground-breaking conservation breeding and release programme – which has now seen over 136 crocodiles released into the wild – is underpinned by the effectiveness of community-led monitoring and anti-poaching activities at key breeding sites in Cambodia.

“The Siamese crocodile is still on the critical list, but the intensive care that this species has received from FFI, the Cambodian government and local communities in the two decades since its rediscovery is beginning to pay real dividends,” it said.

The press release said that community wardens continued to play a pivotal role in the success of the Cambodian Crocodile Conservation Project. In April 2021, the team from Chhay Reap received a prestigious international ranger award for its monitoring and anti-poaching work.

An official releases a Siamese crocodile into a stream. Fauna & Flora International (FFI) released 25 of the critically-endangered creatures into Cambodia’s Cardamom Mountains last month in hopes of replenishing the declining populations in the wild. JEREMY HOLDEN/FFI

Pablo Sinovas, flagship species manager with FFI’s Cambodia programme, said this was the biggest release of Siamese crocodiles they have ever carried out and a major step forward in their efforts to boost the recovery of this critically endangered species in one of its last remaining strongholds.

“At the start of the 21st century, these crocodiles were thought to be extinct in the wild. Two decades on, we’re able to use the latest technology to help us monitor their population and aid their recovery. It’s an exciting moment for conservationists but also for all of Cambodia. Step-by-step, one of the world’s rarest reptiles is being brought back from the brink of extinction,” he said.

Keo Omaliss, director-general of the Forestry Administration, said the release of the crocodiles played an important role in securing wild populations, although it is a slow process. Success came from the commitment of all stakeholders, especially local communities, he said.

“Also important is the fact that as part of these efforts, we are also protecting other wildlife that shares the habitat of the Siamese crocodiles,” he added.

Sok Vichea, a biodiversity researcher, said the conservation of Siamese crocodiles was a worthwhile project that need to be continued, as the species remain endangered and on the verge of extinction due to fishing and trafficking.

He added that mountain crocodiles rarely attacked people, but could be forced to when their food sources were depleted.

“If a lot of fish are taken from an area where the crocodiles live, they may attack humans out of hunger. But if the fish are allowed to remain plentiful, and there is no impact on their ecosystem, they don’t represent a danger to people,” he said.