One of the world’s rarest turtle species has come significantly closer to extinction. Four years ago, an estimated 200 southern river terrapins (Batagur affinis edwardmolli) swam in the rivers of Cambodia, where they are known as Royal Turtles. Now that number has plummeted and may be fewer than 10, according to a joint press release issued this week by the Cambodia Fisheries Administration and the Wildlife Conservation Society.
This comes less than a year after the WCS and the Fisheries Administration released 21 captive-raised turtles in a ceremony witnessed by more than 150 government and religious leaders and local villagers. Those newly released terrapins appear to now be gone.
WCS and the Fisheries Administration blamed the precipitous population decline on increased sand dredging in the turtles’ only habitat, the Sre Ambel River System, and on illegal logging taking place in nearby flooded forests. Both activities destroy prime nesting sites the turtles need to survive and produce the next generation.
The news comes just 16 years after the species, once believed to be extinct in Cambodia, was rediscovered. Conservation measures put in place the following year helped to reduce the number of eggs collected and eaten by people living alongside the turtles, but they have done little to protect the habitat itself.
All is not lost, however. The species is said to still swim in the rivers of neighboring Indonesia and Malaysia. Population numbers in those two countries do not appear to be available.
Meanwhile, the terrapins are doing fairly well in captivity. For the past several years, conservationists have collected more than 560 terrapin eggs from 39 nests. At least 382 hatchlings have been born in these safe surroundings. The original goal was to raise them until they were big enough to survive in the wild and then release them, just like last year’s attempt. Unfortunately, it now appears the opportunities to release additional terrapins back into the wild have narrowed considerably.
Previously in Extinction Countdown: