Batagur baska.

July 2005: A male Batagur baska confiscated in Tay Ninh Province of Vietnam in May was returned and released on the Sre Ambel river after an AVID tag positively identified the turtle as one that had been tagged and released in March of 2003.

May 19, 2005: An adult male was turned in by fishermen to the project.

April 3, 2005: A microchipped two-year-old was turned in by local fishermen to the project.

February 2005: During the first week of February, fisherman caught and turned over a 15kg adult male Batagur baska to the river patrol team. A yearling was also recently caught.

April 2005: An adult male was turned in by local fishermen to the project. Specific date not determined.

January 2005: Two clutches totaling 45 eggs have been deposited on Kaong River beaches so far this year. One of the 2005 nestings involving a previously unrecorded female nesting on a beach that has not been used over the past few years
(Source: Heng Sovannara, Department of Fisheries and WCS Batagur baska Project Coordinator)

October 2004: The Batagur conservation team produced and distributed a t-shirt in villages along the Kaong River with a picture of a large female Batagur and the words: “Please Help Us Save the Royal Turtle” in Khmer and English.

Two students, Chhun Sopheak and Seng Sophon of Chamkar Dong University, also recently completed field research projects involving Batagur baska. Mr. Sopheak examined movement patterns of Batagur baska on the Sre Ambel River, while Mr. Sophon studied variation in nesting beaches within Batagur habitat on the Kaong River.


Young Batagur baska.



Billboard in Sre Ambel urging people to protect Batagur baska.

Contact Details

Sovannara Heng
Department of Fisheries
Wildlife Conservation Society
Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Tele. 855-12924595

Email:
wcs.hr@everyday.com.kh


Acknowledgements

Contributing to the information contained within this profile:

Sovannara Heng, of the National Fisheries Department and coordinator of the WCS Batagur baska Conservation Project

Rohan Holloway, PhD candidate from the University of Canberra

Douglas Hendrie, Asia Turtle Coordinator for WCS and the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo


Batagur boat.

 


Sre Ambel Major Activities

1. Research on nesting ecology and home range
2. Community education and awareness activities
3. River patrols and protection of nesting beaches and eggs
4. Community stakeholder development


Research Program:

Efforts undertaken to learn more about Batagur baska on the Sre Ambel and Kaong Rivers have been led by Rohan Holloway, a PhD student from University of Canberra, Australia. Rohan is looking at the home range and nesting ecology of Batagur baska in Cambodia. Some trapping has been carried out with little success. Tracking of turtles was also unsuccessful due to difficulties radio-tracking when the turtles moved to saline water.

Interviews with members of local communities have been utilized to learn more about the ecology and behavior of local Batagur populations, identify key threats, and determine attitudes that will help the conservation team design project activities that are responsive to community interests and attitudes.

The research program also involves looking at nesting ecology. Batagur baska nest on sandbanks from December through February in Cambodia. The range in incubation has thus far been 118-123 days and there are 7 known nesting beaches, the furthest located 56 km upriver.

Education and Awareness:
Community-based awareness activities have included development and placement of five billboards urging people to protect Batagur baska in the Sre Ambel market, along the road approach to Sre Ambel, at the Kaong and Sre Ambel River intersection, and at a major river crossing area.

Activities have also been carried out in some local schools to increase awareness at the local village level and help encourage local participation in protecting the species. A school exercise book featuring the turtle was produced and distributed in 2001. A poster was also distributed encouraging people to “Please Help Protect the Royal Turtle."

In July 2003, the project has also produced a 30 minute documentary that has aired on national TV raising awareness about efforts to protect the species.

Protection Activities on the River
River patrols by Fisheries Department staff working for the project are carried out on the Kaong and Sre Ambel River using the Batagur baska patrol boat owned by WCS. Three people are assigned to each river, led by team leader from the Sre Ambel Fisheries Department office.

Patrol teams converse with local fishermen along both rivers and collect information about sightings. In at least one case, authorities confiscated a juvenile Batagur baska from a fisherman on the Stung Prot River 20 km west of the mouth of the Sre Ambel River.

Protection of Nesting Areas and Eggs:
During nesting season, females are permitted to nest without disturbance on beaches located on the Kaong and Sre Ambel Rivers. The field team then follows the tracks in the sand to locate nests. Nests are left in-situ and protected by bamboo fencing to keep predators out. Sometimes nests are relocated if located too close to the water or if laid on beaches that can not be readily protected. Members of the local community are hired to guard the nesting beaches until May when the hatchlings begin to emerge.

The hatchling turtles are measured and weighed before being released. Each juvenile is implanted with a microchip to allow for identification should the individual be caught again later. Their time in captivity after hatching does not exceed 30 days. Releases are often used to help raise awareness with local people, school children, government officials, and monks participating in the event.

Identified Threats to Batagur baska

  • Local harvesting of eggs from nesting areas: Traditionally, eggs are harvested annually by local people and consumed. This practice has stopped on main nesting beaches following the start of the project, though some unknown nests may continue to be exploited without the knowledge of the conservation team.
  • Subsistence harvest of adults (not documented): Batagur baska may be consumed locally in the past. A single shell from an animal that was eaten locally was recovered in 2002 from a village on the Kaong River. Turtles are hunted using nets, harpoons, and hooks strung across the river.
  • Hunting and trade: Local villagers report traders inquiring about buying Batagur baska in local villages suggesting that trade remains a problem.
  • Incidental drowning in fishing nets: Use of gill nets that are set strung across or along the sides of rivers may result in the accidental drowning of Batagur baska if the nets are not supervised.
  • Ghost fishing: Filament nets that have been discarded and lie at the river bottom or tangled in vegetation may result in accidental drowning of turtles.
  • Loss of mangrove habitat: Clearing of riparian vegetation including mangrove. Cutting of mangrove for charcoal production (Holloway, PC 7-05)
  • Pollution: Use of chemicals and pesticides in agricultural areas bordering the river may impact water quality and harm turtles. Fish kills have been observed on the Kaong and Sre Ambel Rivers.
  • Grazing and watering of livestock: Buffalo utilize sand banks during nesting season increasing the potential for damaging nests or frightening females from nesting grounds.
  • Natural Predators: Monitor lizards (Varanus salvatore) and long-tailed macaques have been known to predate nests. A fishing cat reportedly destroyed a nest on the Sre Ambel River in 2003.
  • Siltation and sedimentation: Logging and agricultural practices within the watershed may alter river habitat by changing water flow regimes, silting or washing away nesting beaches, and reducing water quality.

Main Focus: Conservation of Batagur baska in Cambodia

Location: Sre Ambel River system, Sre Ambel and Kompong Seila Districts, Koh Kong Province, Cambodia.

Administered by: The Department of Fisheries and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS)

Established: 2001

Objectives: Conservation of Batagur baska within the Sre Ambel River system and other river systems where wild populations may still occur.

Project supported by:

The Wildlife Conservation Society
University of Canberra
Disney


A Batagur is released into the the Kaong River by a local fisherman.

Predators: Monitor lizards and macaques have been known to predate Batagur nests. Monitor lizards will search out and dig up nests if located. Their tracks are often observed on nesting beaches during the nesting season. The conservation team builds bamboo cages around the nests to protect them against monitors and other would-be predators.


Nest protection on Kaong River beach.

Population Size: There are about six females in the Sre Ambel population based upon nesting statistics. However, the conservation team does not yet know if females are returning each year to nest. In any case, the populations is believed to be very small.

Where have all the turtles gone? Villagers have reported in interviews that during the late 1990s, more than 60 adult female mangrove terrapins were slaughtered during a single night on nesting beaches of the Kaong River. In 2004, local people report that traders have visited their village inquiring about buying mangrove terrapins suggesting that pressure remains intense upon the small surviving population.

Local Fishermen Turn Over Turtles: Evidence suggests that awareness efforts are paying off at least with some of the fishermen on the Sre Ambel and Kaong Rivers. By 2005, seven Batagur baska were turned over to the Conservation Team voluntarily by fishermen. Non-monetary rewards such as rice or tea are given to fishermen that turn in turtles. In most cases, after the turtle is measured, weighed, and marked, the fisherman participates in the return of the animal where it was captured.

Lucky Turtle Goes Home: A male Batagur baska that was confiscated by police from wildlife traders in the southern province of Tay Ninh, Vietnam was identified as having originated in the Sre Ambel population thanks to an electronic chip inserted in the turtle in March 2003. Luckier than most turtles, this particular turtle was ceremoniously flown home and released back into the river. This was the first time that Batagur baska had been observed in the illegal trade in Vietnam, and the first time that an electronic chip had been used to identify the origin of an animal that ended up in the trade.


Buddhist monks release Batagur baska hatchlings from protected nesting beaches on the Kaong River.

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