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Cambodia Releases Endangered Royal Turtles in Revival Bid

FILE PHOTO: A member of the non-profit Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) holds a Royal turtle egg as they found at Sre Ambel in Koh Kong province, Cambodia February 3, 2018. REUTERS/WCS Cambodia Handout via Reuters

Cambodian conservationists released 51 critically endangered royal turtles back into the wild on Friday, in a drive to bolster a species thought to be extinct two decades ago.

Also known as the southern river terrapin, the large river turtles are on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's red list of threatened species, and the European Union is helping to fund the revival program in Cambodia.

The turtles, collected between 2006 and 2015 immediately after hatching and reared in a conservation center, were released into the Sre Ambel River in Cambodia's coastal province of Preah Sihanouk.

"With the increasing number of adults in the wild through this release, we do hope that this species will breed in the wild and that annual nests will increase in the next few years," Wildlife Conservation Society's Ken Sereyrotha said.

The turtles, 31 females and 20 males between 6 and 15 years old, are implanted with a microchip and have an acoustic transmitter attached to their shells.

The royal turtle was believed extinct in Cambodia until 2000 due to sand dredging, illegal fishing, and loss of habitat. It was designated the country's national reptile in 2005.