Endangered Turtle Released Into Cambodian River
January 19, 2012

Endangered Turtle Released Into Cambodian River

Conservation agencies have released one of the most endangered turtles -- a Southern River Terrapin -- back into the wild, with officials, conservationists, and local residents attending the release ceremony on January 16.

The release was first announced Monday by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), the Cambodian Fisheries Administration and Wildlife Reserves Singapore. The 75-pound female turtle was released into the Sre Ambel River in Cambodia, outfitted with a satellite tracking tag, to allow researchers to monitor the turtle´s movements in the wild, according to a WCS press release.

The released turtle is one of only 200 Southern River Terrapins remaining in Cambodia, Indonesia and Malaysia, and only one of fewer than ten nesting females in the Sre Ambel River, according to estimates from PhysOrg.

The turtle was captured by local fishermen in April 2011, and was voluntarily surrendered effectively keeping the endangered animal off the black markets in China, said WCS.

WCS said they believe the turtle has an “excellent chance of recovery,” because the area has “some of the largest and most pristine” coastal mangrove forests in Southeast Asia.

“By reducing the adult mortality of the Southern River terrapin, even by fractions -- as little as ten animals a year per population in this circumstance -- we can have immediate and long-term positive impacts on the remaining wild populations of this critically endangered species,” WCS´s Brian D. Horne said in a press release.

Conservationists will monitor the turtle´s movements to see how it utilizes its new habitat. Of particular interest is how the turtle navigates through commercial fishing grounds, as well as where it would be most threatened by other factors such as habitat destruction by sand mining and conversion of mangrove forests into shrimp farms.

Heng Sovannara, Deputy Director of Cambodia's Fisheries Administration´s Conservation Department, is extremely hopeful that the release will enhance efforts to conserve the species.

“By identifying areas that are most utilized by the turtles, we can pinpoint our efforts to reduce the turtles being caught as fishery by-catch as well as targeted hunting,” he said.

“This project will contribute greatly to a much brighter future for this critically endangered terrapin. Hopefully, more public awareness and education opportunities will arise from this and allow us to create better protection tools and a safer environment for these amazing reptiles,” added Dr. Sonja Luz, Deputy Director of Conservation & Research for Wildlife Reserves Singapore.

In 2000, a small population of Southern River Terrapins was found in the Sre Ambel after many years of being considered locally extinct.

The turtle population was nearly decimated in the past due to impoverished Cambodians that were forced to capture the reptiles by the thousands and sell them to Chinese markets to survive. The turtles were popularly used in China as a food delicacy.


Image Caption: This photo shows the release of the Southern River terrapin at a ceremony on the Sre Ambel River in Cambodia attended by representatives of WCS, Cambodia´s Fisheries Administration´s Conservation Department, the Singapore Embassy, and local officials. The turtle has been equipped with a satellite tag, which will allow WCS conservationists to track it. Credit: Eleanor Briggs


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