PHNOM PENH, Oct. 19 (FN) -- Twenty-five Cambodia's nearly-extinct Royal Turtles have settled into their new home at the Angkor Center for Conservation of Biodiversity (ACCB) in northwestern Siem Reap province, a conservationist group said Wednesday.
The move created a second captive population after 206 turtles were moved to the Koh Kong Reptile Conservation Center in southwestern Koh Kong province last month, said a joint statement released by Cambodia's Fisheries Administration (FiA), Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), and ACCB.
The Royal Turtle, also known as Southern River Terrapin (Batagur affinis), is one of the world's most endangered freshwater turtles and is listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List as Critically Endangered. It has been designated as Cambodia's national reptile by a royal decree in 2005.
"When managing captive populations of very rare animals, it is international best practice to not keep all individuals in one location. So-called 'assurance colonies' help manage the risks of hazards such as natural disasters, major disease outbreaks or other unforeseen incidents, so if such a catastrophe happens the entire population is not affected," said Ouk Vibol, director of Fisheries Conservation Department at the FiA.
Situated near the famous temples of Angkor Wat, ACCB was the first nature conservation and endangered wildlife rescue and breeding center in Cambodia.
"Since arriving, the Royal Turtles have adapted very well to the new environment and can be regularly seen at the surface," said Michael Meyerhoff, ACCB project manager. "Due to the young age of the females, breeding is still not likely for the next couple of years."
He said ACCB's veterinarian and animal keeping staff would continue to monitor their well-being and follow up on regular health-checks of those turtles.
The turtle was believed extinct in Cambodia until 2000 when a small population was re-discovered by FiA and WCS in the Sre Ambel River in Koh Kong province, said the joint statement, adding that the reptile is now facing threats to its very survival due to habitat loss caused by increased sand dredging and illegal clearance of flooded forest.
"Protecting natural habitat and wild population is the most urgent priority to save the Royal Turtle from extinction," said Ross Sinclair, director of WCS-Cambodia Program.