PHNOM PENH, June 21 (Xinhua) -- Some 150 endangered Asian giant softshell turtle hatchlings were released into their natural habitat along the Mekong River in southeastern Cambodia's Kratie province on Wednesday, a conservationist group said.
The hatchlings are part of a community protection program designed to increase the wild population of the species, and had been collected from nests that were guarded by local communities, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) said in a statement.
The Asian giant softshell turtle (Pelochelys cantorii) is listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List as globally endangered.
The statement said it was thought extinct in the Cambodian portion of the Mekong River until re-discovery in 2007 in a 48-km stretch of the river between Kratie and Stung Treng provinces.
"The purpose of this release is to increase the wild population of the Asian giant softshell turtle," said Sun Yoeung, WCS's Asian Giant Softshell Turtle Conservation Project Coordinator. "As the project pays local people as guardians and rangers, the release will also increase local incomes and encourage the support and involvement of local communities in conserving the species."
The release is part of a project that has been ongoing since 2007, formerly run by Conservation International (CI), and now by WCS in collaboration with the Cambodia's Fisheries Administration and the Turtle Survival Alliance.
The community-based protection program encourages the participation of local communities living in Kratie and Stung Treng provinces by hiring former nest collectors to search for and protect nests, instead of harvesting the eggs, the statement said, adding that since 2007, 378 nests have been protected and 8,528 hatchlings released.
"Collection of eggs or adults for consumption or sale is illegal in Cambodia," said Ouk Vibol, director of Fisheries Conservation Department of Fisheries Administration. "Everyone can help conserve Asian giant softshell turtles by not buying or eating their meat or eggs."