Cambodia: Nearly extinct Royal Turtles transferred to special conservation center
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Cambodia: Nearly extinct Royal Turtles transferred to special conservation center

CONSERVATIONISTS have moved to ease fears that the rare Royal Turtle will disappear in Cambodia, saying they have transferred more than 200 of the nearly extinct species to a new purpose-built breeding and conservation center.

In a statement Tuesday, the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society said 206 Royal Turtles have been released into the facility, the Koh Kong Reptile Conservation Center, in western Cambodia.

The center is a joint effort between the government’s fishery department and the society.

Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) communications officer Eng Mengey was quoted in the Khmer Times as saying that the loss of their natural habitat had threatened the survival of the turtles.

The turtles and their hatchlings will be moved to the new center along with 13 Siamese crocodiles.

SEE ALSO: Cambodia’s Royal Turtle on the brink of extinction due to shrinking habitat

“We are transferring them to the new center because the old one is small and old and has been used for more than 10 years,” Mr. Mengey said. “The new center is bigger and of higher quality for feeding royal turtles’ babies and crossbreeding.”

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Wildlife Conservation Society’s field veterinarian Martin Gilbert, from Britain, holds a Royal Turtle. (File photo) Pic: AP.

The species was designated as Cambodia’s national reptile in 2005.

The Royal Turtle is one of the world’s 25 most endangered tortoises and freshwater turtles. Also known as the Southern River terrapin, the Royal Turtle is so named because in historical times only the royal family could consume its eggs.

Previously, it was believed to be extinct in the kingdom until 16 years ago, when a small, surviving population was discovered.

SEE ALSO: Rare, once-royal turtle to be tracked in Cambodia

Since 2001, WCS and Cambodia’s Fishery Administration have been running a community-based conservation project for the species that helped turn turtle egg poachers into its protectors by hiring them to search for and protect nests, then harvesting the eggs for sale.

Following the brutal rule of the Khmer Rouge in the mid-1970s which left the country devastated, poor rural dwellers scoured the forests for wildlife, much of which was sold to traders connected to China, where many wild animals — from turtles to tigers — are believed to possess medicinal and sex-enhancing properties.

Additional reporting from the Associated Press