Young turtles have been released into their natural habitat by conservationists as part of a community protection programme that began in 2007.
“The purpose of this release is to increase the wild population of the Asian giant softshell turtle,” said Wildlife Conservation Society’s (WCS) Sun Yoeung.
“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.”
Asian giant softshell turtles are listed as Endangered on IUCN Red List, and were thought to be absent from the Cambodian portion of the Mekong River.
In 2007, a population was discovered along a 48km stretch of the Mekong River between Kratie and Stung Treng provinces, providing hope for the species.
The reptile feeds on crustaceans, molluscs and fish, and spends 95 per cent of its time motionless and buried in sediment, surfacing twice a day to breathe.
When the programme started former nest-collectors were hired to search for and protect turtle nests, instead of harvesting the eggs.
In total, 329 nests have been protected and 7,709 hatchlings released.
Asian giant softshell turtles are in decline due to direct exploitation, habitat loss and illegal collection. The turtles, and their body parts are traded or they are sold as pets.
Main image: Asian giant softshell turtle hatchlings being released into the wild. © Yoeung Sun/WCS