PHNOM PENH - Environmental activists are working to conserve a rare turtle that lives in three provinces of northeastern Cambodia.
The Asian giant softshell turtle, a freshwater species called “frog head turtle” in Khmer, is disappearing from Southeast Asia, but a good number of specimens have been found living along the Mekong River in Cambodia.
“They are in a critical situation,” said Sun Yoeung, a project officer at Conservation International, as he toured the river last week.
Around 2,600 of the turtle species are thought to be living along the river.
“Cambodia is believed to have a number of significant populations of this species and might be the most important population in the region,” according to the WWF, a conservation group, “whereas the Vietnamese population is probably extinct, and the Lao and Thai populations are very small and also on the edge of extinction.”
Conservation International opened a turtle center in central Cambodia in 2011, and with collaboration with WWF, pays $8 per newborn turtle.
“People seem to understand more, after we did some outreach, and they are helping in conservation,” said Sok Ko, a government Forestry Administration officer. “But not all villagers participate in conservation.”
Meal Phoeun, 60, is among villagers of Koh Preah, in Stung Treng, who want to help the threatened turtle—and have found it profitable. He recently built a tank on the side of the river to protect turtle eggs, making a hatchery.
On Saturday, Meal Phoeun gave 125 newborn turtles over to the conservationists, earning $1,000, something he could not hope to earn in months of fishing.
“We can’t even find 500,000 riel [about $125] in a whole year of fishing,” his wife said.
Meal Phoeun and his family hope to continue protecting turtle eggs, especially from other villagers who might be tempted to cook and eat them.