PHNOM PENH, Oct. 5 (Xinhua) -- After their release in November last year into their natural habitat in Sre Ambel river in southwest Cambodia's Koh Kong province, all 25 nearly-extinct royal turtles have been detected, a conservationist group said on Friday.
"This shows that recovery efforts for the only remaining wild population of the Southern River Terrapin are showing signs of success," the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) said in a press statement.
The statement said the monitoring data indicated that one royal turtle had travelled to another river which is nearly 100 km away from the release site, and the other was captured by a fisherman and handed over to the project.
"The released turtles are now dispersing over a wider area," it said.
The royal turtle, also known as Southern River Terrapin, is one of the world's 25 most endangered freshwater turtles and tortoises and is listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List as critically endangered.
The species lives only in Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand, and its global wild population numbers are less than 500 mature individuals.
The royal turtle was designated as Cambodia's National Reptile by Royal Decree in 2005.
Due to illegal fishing and sand mining along the Sre Ambel river, the only place the species is still found in Cambodia, the species is at great risk of extinction, the statement said.
The royal turtle was believed extinct in Cambodia until 2000 when a small population was rediscovered by Cambodia's Fisheries Administration (FiA) and WCS in the Sre Ambel river. Since then, the FiA and WCS have been working together to protect the species from extinction.
"The nest protection program plays a vital role to protect the species by paying former egg collectors to protect nests, generating extra income for them and allowing nests to successfully hatch," said Som Sitha, WCS's technical advisor to the project.
He said the program had released two groups of royal turtles consisting of sub-adult males and females into their natural habitat in 2015 and 2017.
"Our post-release monitoring program has showed that there is high survival of turtles, bringing hope that we can restore the wild population," he said.
Ouk Vibol, director of Fisheries Administration Conservation Department, said sand dredging, logging of riparian forest and illegal fishing are the big issues that degrade all the turtles' habitat, especially their nesting beaches.
"FiA is now drafting a ministerial proclamation of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries to put most sections of the Sre Ambel River system into a management zone for Royal Turtle and Siamese Crocodile," he said, adding that the edict will come into effect very soon.