Buddhist ceremonial release of world’s rarest turtles into protected pond in Cambodia

Conservation International (CI), together with the Cambodian Fisheries Administration and the Association of Buddhists for the Environment, have opened the Mekong Turtle Conservation Center (MTCC) in central Cambodia with the ceremonial release of 50 Cantor’s softshell adult turtle and hatchlings into a protected conservation pond. Fauna & Flora International, through the Conservation Leadership Programme, has been supporting this team of Cambodian turtle conservationists since 2004.

The outdoor protected pond, formerly a traditional pagoda pond, was reconstructed and converted through funding from the local monks for the MTCC. This pond, now populated, was built to protect an assurance colony of fertile adults and to facilitate captive breeding, for which an adjoining sandbar for nesting was built.

Listed on the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance, the project is located in an area considered one of the richest freshwater biodiversity areas in Southeast Asia, along a fifty-kilometre stretch of the Mekong River where the turtles habituate.

Phak seanglyFreshwater turtles across Asia are threatened by factors including the pet trade and in some areas are eaten by humans. The goal of the MTCC is the long-term sustainable conservation of the wild population of one of the world’s rarest and largest fresh water turtles — the Cantor’s softshell turtle, (Pelochelys cantorii) of which the largest known wild population survives in the nearby Mekong River.

To mark the opening of the MTCC, Buddhist monk Chan Sokpov gave a blessing, and a mature turtle was jointly released into the pond by the partners, as monks marked select turtles with Buddhist symbols in a traditional ritual which they hope will strongly decrease the likelihood of capture by fishermen.

The project is poised to make great strides in expanding the threatened turtle’s wild population while improving livelihoods for local communities.