Article by Shreya Dasgupta
On June 28, 2017, conservationists chanced upon a nest containing 19 eggs of the extremely rare Siamese crocodile (Crocodylus siamensis) in the Sre Ambel District of Koh Kong Province in Cambodia. This was the first Siamese crocodile nest researchers had recorded in the Sre Ambel River System in six years of their work.
Worried that the nest might be destroyed by poachers or predators, the team collected the eggs and moved them to the Koh Kong Reptile Conservation Center (KKRCC), a recently-built reptile breeding and conservation center located in Mondul Seima District of Koh Kong Province. KKRCC — a joint endeavour between WCS and Cambodia’s Fisheries Administration (FiA) — hopes to help conserve rare and endangered reptiles like the Siamese crocodile and the critically endangered Royal turtles (Batagur affinis).
“I am so excited to see these hatchlings,” Tun Sarorn, caretaker of Royal turtles and Siamese crocodiles at the KKRCC, said in a statement. “Before seeing them, I was surprised to hear their voices from inside the eggs. It was amazing, and I felt so happy because I realized they are coming out. I will feed them all in the next few days with small fish and frogs.”
The freshwater Siamese crocodile is among the rarest and least known crocodiles in the world. Once widespread across Southeast Asia, the crocodile disappeared from much of its range by the early 1990s, largely due to commercial hunting for the skin trade and collection of live individuals to stock crocodile farms.
Only around 400 of these critically endangered crocodiles survive in the wild today. Of these, about 100 to 300 individuals are estimated to live in Cambodia while the remaining are known from Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Indonesia. These small and scattered wild populations are threatened by the illegal collection of eggs, hunting of hatchlings and adults, habitat loss and accidental capture with fishing gear.
The nine Siamese crocodile hatchlings will remain at the KKRCC for the next few years, WCS said, until they are large enough to be released into the wild.
“We will take care of these hatchlings until they are able to survive in nature on their own,” said Som Sitha, WCS’s Technical Advisor for the Sre Ambel Conservation Project. “We will then release some to the wild, and others will be kept for breeding.”
Ouk Vibol, Director of Fisheries Conservation Department of Fisheries Administration added: “I am so excited about these hatchlings because Siamese crocodiles are Critically Endangered, and we can increase their wild numbers. They need more protection to conserve them from extinction.”