PHNOM PENH, March 22 (Xinhua) -- Twenty Cambodia's nearly-extinct Royal Turtles were released into their natural habitat in the Sre Ambel River in southwest Koh Kong province on Wednesday, a conservationist group said.
The Royal Turtle, also known as Southern River Terrapin (Batagur affinis), is one of the world's 25 most endangered tortoises and freshwater turtles and is listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List as Critically Endangered.
The turtles were released by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), in collaboration with the Fisheries Administration and Mandai Nature, according to a WCS statement.
The turtles were gathered from their nests along the Sre Ambel and Kampong Leu Rivers in Koh Kong and Preah Sihanouk provinces between 2006 and 2015, WCS landscape project manager Som Sitha said, adding that they were then sent to the Koh Kong Reptile Conservation Center, where they were cared for and prepared for return to the wild.
"Each turtle was implanted with a microchip, and an acoustic transmitter was attached to its marginal scute, allowing the conservation team to monitor and track their movements through the river system," he added.
This is the seventh release of Royal Turtles into the Sre Ambel River since 2015, bringing the total number of turtles reintroduced to the wild to 167, according to the statement.
Ouk Vibol, director of the Fisheries Conservation Department at the Fisheries Administration, said the Sre Ambel River and its surrounding riparian forest have been protected by an edict since 2019, which makes cutting, clearing and grabbing of this habitat illegal.
He also called on local residents to "avoid capturing and trading this important species."
The Royal Turtle was designated as Cambodia's national reptile by a royal decree in 2005. The species was believed to be extinct until 2000, when a small population was rediscovered in the Sre Ambel River.