Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) Cambodia announced that it had handed over 15 royal turtles to the “National Aquaculture Research and Development Institute Samdech Techo Hun Sen, located in Roka commune, Kandal province” on February 16, in collaboration with the Fisheries Administration (FiA) under the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.

The turtles included two sub-adults – one male, one female – and 13 juveniles, WCS Cambodia affirmed in a February 17 statement.

“The institute covers an area of approximately 30ha. The purpose is to have them at the institute for students to study their biology, as well as for breeding.

“Transferring some of these critically endangered turtles for breeding in different places will allow to better protect and conserve the species from extinction.

“This is the third assurance colony of its kind, after WCS's Koh Kong Reptile Conservation Center in Koh Kong province and Angkor Center for Conservation of Biodiversity in Siem Reap province. WCS will provide technical support as needed, to ensure the reptiles stay healthy,” it said.

Also known as the southern river terrapin and by its scientific name Batagur affinis, the royal turtle is one of the world’s 25 most endangered freshwater turtles and tortoises, and is listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species as “critically endangered”.

It was designated as Cambodia’s national reptile by Royal Decree No NS/RKT/0305/149 on Designation of Animals and Plants as National Symbols of the Kingdom of Cambodia, dated March 21, 2005.