November 18, 2009

Rare Crocs Discovered In Cambodia

Dozens of one of the world's most endangered crocodile species have been found lounging in plain sight at a wildlife rescue center in Cambodia, The Associated Press reported.

Researchers said Wednesday that DNA taken from 69 crocodiles housed in the moats of the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center showed nearly 50 percent were Siamese crocodiles, which until recently were believed to have become extinct in the wild.

Adam Starr, who manages the Cambodian Crocodile Conservation Program, a joint effort between the government and Fauna & Flora International, said that for the first time in Cambodia, they have a captive population of animals that they know 100 percent are purebred Siamese crocodiles.

The Siamese crocodile, or crocodylus Siamensis, was once common throughout Southeast Asia. But now it is locally extinct in 99 percent of the areas it once roamed and is listed as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Habitat loss and poaching is responsible for wiping out much of the wild population over the years.

There are thought to be less than 250 still in the wild, with nearly all in Cambodia and the rest in Indonesia and Vietnam.

However, the crocodile's now face the new threat of hydropower dams being built in two of their three known habitats in the country.

The recent discovery of the captive population would give conservationists new options for breeding and reintroducing the crocodiles into the wild, most likely in places not affected by the dams, according to Starr.

He believes that up to 60 crocodiles a year could be released into areas where they once thrived.

Researchers at Thailand's Kasetsart University performed DNA analysis on the animals since it is virtually impossible to tell the difference between Siamese crocodiles and the hybrid crocodile species that are also housed at the center.

"So many of the crocodiles turned out to be pure Siamese. Before we conducted the DNA testing, we thought perhaps only three or four of them in the zoo were Siamese crocodiles," said Nhek Ratanapech, director of the wildlife center.

Siamese crocs are known to be slightly smaller than hybrids, at just under 10 feet. Their snouts are also shorter and wider.

The Washington, D.C.-based conservation group Wildlife Alliance also took part in the discovery.


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