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Turtles returned to wild

People hold the critically endangered royal turtles, also known as the Southern River Terrapin, yesterday at a conservation centre in Koh Kong province.
People hold the critically endangered royal turtles, also known as the Southern River Terrapin, yesterday at a conservation centre in Koh Kong province. Heng Chivoan

Turtles returned to wild

More than 200 critically endangered royal turtles were transferred to their new home yesterday, with plans to breed the species back to a healthy population.

The critically endangered Batagur affinis turtles, 206 in total, were packed into a three-tiered truck and constantly sprinkled with water as they were transported from Boeung Preav commune in Sre Ambel district to the Koh Kong Provincial Reptile Conservation Centre, located in Mondul Seima district.

The new centre eventually plans to become a site for breeding the turtles in captivity, said Ouk Vibol, director of the Fisheries Conservation Department. The species dwindled to a dangerously low population level and was once thought to be extinct, but in 2000, a handful of turtles were found thanks to a joint effort between the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the Fisheries Administration. An estimated three to five were breeding females.

Newly discovered turtle nests are now protected and hatchings are sent to the centre, where they are fed and taken care of until they reach 7 to 10 years of age. Then they can be released into the wild.

WCS technical adviser Sam Sitha said 382 new turtles had hatched since the project began, and added that the main threats to the species were certain fishing methods and sand-dredging, which destroyed their nests.

Twenty-one were set free last year with tracking devices to monitor their movements, with no confirmed fatalities. Another 25 are kept at a conservation centre in Siem Reap to avoid any potential loss of the whole population due to natural disaster or disease.

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