Cambodian conservationists hopeful for revival of rare royal turtle

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Cambodian conservationists hopeful for revival of rare royal turtle

Man measures a turtle at Chheuteal Beach, where over twenty rare Royal Turtles have hatched, in Sre Ambel District

PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - Conservationists in Cambodia are celebrating the hatching of more critically endangered turtles in recent months than the past three years combined, owing to a preservation drive and a halt on sand-dredging.

Some 23 rare royal turtles have hatched recently in southwestern Koh Kong province, the only place in Cambodia where the turtles can be found, including on a river beach not been used for nesting in 13 years.

The hatching of 23 of the 51 eggs found is boosting hopes of survival for a threatened species that was designated Cambodia's national reptile and was believed to be extinct two decades ago.

"With ongoing support and cooperation, we are hopeful that the number of turtles will continue to increase in the coming years," said Ken Sereyrotha, country programme director for the Wildlife Conservation Society.

Illegal fishing, reduction of flooded woodlands and sand-dredging along the Sre Ambel river system has been blamed for loss of habitat for the turtle, also known as the southern river terrapin. A law was introduced in 2017 to stop sand-dredging.

The baby turtles are each only a few inches long and were measured and weighed by the group. They will be looked after at a conservation centre before being released into the wild.

The European Union is helping to fund the programme to save their species through research and monitoring and protection of the nests and beaches.

The increased hatching follows good news for turtles in Thailand, which since November has recorded the largest number of nests of rare leatherback sea turtles in two decades, found on beaches empty of tourists due to the coronavirus pandemic. [nL4N2C603Z]



(Reporting by Chantha Lach; Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Janet Lawrence)