PHNOM PENH, Sept. 20 (Xinhua) -- About 565 endangered Asian giant softshell turtle hatchlings have been released into the natural habitat along the Mekong River in northeast Cambodia's Kratie province, a conservationist group said in a statement on Thursday.
The hatchlings are part of a community protection project 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 the statement.
The Asian giant softshell turtle (Pelochelys cantorii) is listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List as globally endangered.
It was thought to be extinct in the Cambodian portion of the Mekong River until it was re-discovered in 2007 in a 48-kilometer stretch of the river between Kratie and Stung Treng provinces.
"This release aims at increasing the wild population of the Asian Giant Softshell Turtles," said Ngourn Chanti, 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," he said.
The project has been undertaking since 2007, it was formerly run by the Conservation International, and now by the WCS in collaboration with the Cambodia's Fisheries Administration, Wildlife Reserve Singapore (WRS), and the Turtle Survival Alliance.
The community-based protection project 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. Since 2007, 402 nests have been protected and 9,047 hatchlings released.
"Protection is needed to conserve Asian Giant Softshell Turtle from extinction by combating with illegal trading of the species," said Ouk Vibol, director of Fisheries Conservation Department of the Fisheries Administration. "Collection of eggs or adults for consumption or sale is illegal in Cambodia."
"Everyone can help conserve the Asian Giant Softshell Turtles by not buying or eating their meat or eggs," he said.