PHNOM PENH, May 20 (Xinhua) -- Thirty nearly extinct Royal Turtle babies hatched in an artificial sandbank at the Koh Kong Reptile Conservation Center (KKRCC) in southwest Cambodia's Koh Kong province last week, a conservationist group said on Friday.
This is the second time that Royal Turtles have laid eggs in captivity in Cambodia, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) in Cambodia said in a press statement.
During the 2022 nesting season, Royal Turtles in a captive-breeding group at KKRCC laid 81 eggs in nine clutches and 30 of them hatched, the statement said, adding that this compares favorably with 2021, when only one of 71 eggs in five clutches successfully hatched.
"While breeding in nature is decreasing, we are encouraged by the success of our captive breeding program to ensure the long-term survival of the Royal Turtle," said Som Sitha, WCS landscape project manager.
"In this year's nesting season, none of the nests was found on the beach along the Sre Ambel River System within the Fisheries Management Area in Koh Kong and Preah Sihanouk provinces," he said.
Steven G. Platt, associate conservation herpetologist for WCS in Southeast Asia, said this is one of the most exciting and significant developments in Royal Turtle conservation in Cambodia.
"With this successful hatching of so many baby turtles, the long-term survival prospects for the Royal Turtle suddenly got much better," he said.
The Royal Turtle, also known as Southern River Terrapin (Batagur affinis), is one of the world's 25 most threatened freshwater turtles and tortoises, the statement said, adding that it is listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List as critically endangered and was designated as Cambodia's National Reptile by a Royal Decree issued in 2005.
"We are very proud to get this great result," Ouk Vibol, director of the Fisheries Conservation Department of the Fisheries Administration, said.
"We strongly encourage and support the continuation of this captive breeding program for restoring this species in the future and we hope this species will survive for our next generation," he added.
The Royal Turtle was believed extinct in Cambodia until 2000 when a small population was rediscovered by the Fisheries Administration and WCS in the Sre Ambel River, the statement said, adding that after the discovery, WCS initiated a community-based nest protection program, which employed former egg collectors to search for and protect nests instead of harvesting them.
The KKRCC currently holds 186 Royal Turtles, according to the statement.