Ministry of Environment spokesman Neth Pheaktra called on fishermen to help conserve the endangered royal turtle (batagur affinis). The species, also known as the Southern river terrapin, are on the verge of extinction in Cambodia, but a successful breeding programme is offering some hope.

Pheaktra led a May 15 media tour of an artificial sandbank at the Koh Kong Reptile Conservation Centre. During the visit, he expressed his admiration for the partner organisations that had joined the ministry in its efforts to conserve the royal turtle population.

He noted that the species was once thought to be extinct in Cambodia, but were rediscovered in 2000.

“I call on the people of all local communities, especially fishermen, to join the authorities in conserving these precious animals, which are the national reptile of Cambodia. These, and other rare animals, have the potential to attract many tourists to the Kingdom,” he said.

Thorn Phon, coordinator for the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Royal Turtle and Siamese Crocodile Management and Conservation Project, said that this was the third year of the royal turtle breeding programme, and that he was cautiously optimistic.

“This year, 122 royal turtles were successfully hatched. We hope to see that next year increase to 200 next year,” he added.

He remained concerned about the threat posed by illegal fishing.

“For the past five years, we have been conducting fisheries patrols, alongside the fisheries administration. We have confiscated around 100 illegal nets,” he said.

Royal turtles are found in just three countries –Cambodia, Indonesia and Malaysia. They are listed as critically endangered on the IUCN red list.