Once widespread across Southeast Asia, there are now around 250 adult Siamese crocodiles surviving in the wild in Cambodia and the species is critically endangered. Conserving these crocs requires not just boosting the number of individuals, but – crucially – reducing the threats they face, thereby giving the species a fighting chance to recover and not only survive in the wild, but thrive once again.

Poaching still threatens the Siamese crocodile, and protecting the species from illegal capture is an ongoing priority for Fauna & Flora International (FFI), the Cambodian government and the communities that make up the Cambodia Crocodile Conservation Project. Secure protection could not be achieved without the work of community wardens who patrol day and night to deter poachers, remove illegal fishing nets in critical habitat and monitor crocodile populations.

For the communities in the Cardamom Mountains, the Siamese crocodile is not just a threatened species. There is a deep understanding and respect for these reptiles among community members and the crocodile is considered sacred, a belief that enables both parties to live peacefully side by side. Carvings in the temples of Angkor Wat reflect that the species has long been an important part of Khmer culture. The populations discovered in southwest Cambodia by FFI and the Cambodian government in 2000 probably only survived thanks to the protection provided by the indigenous communities living there.

Crocodiles feature in stone art at Angkor Wat, Cambodia. Credit: Jeremy Holden/FFI
Crocodiles feature in stone art at Angkor Wat, Cambodia. Credit: Jeremy Holden/FFI

We spoke with Sim Khmao, a community warden from Pur Boeng village in Cambodia’s Koh Kong province.

I work as a warden in this village. My daily tasks include patrolling these areas to find out if there are any threats from illegal hunters or fishermen […]. […] I also look for nests, excrement, hatchlings, eggs or any traces of crocodiles in the conservation area.

There are eight of us in this area; we are divided into groups of three or two. There are three wardens in my team. It takes two days and one night for us to patrol the whole area. Since this crocodile faces extinction and there is a small number of them left, we try our best to preserve and conserve them […].

Sim Khmao (right) and another community warden patrol crocodile habitat along the river. Credit: Pablo Sinovas/FFI
Sim Khmao (right) and another community warden patrol crocodile habitat along the river. Credit: Pablo Sinovas/FFI

How do people feel about crocodiles in our community? They think they are greatly beneficial for people living in the community. First, when there are crocodiles, there also are fishes and other species such as turtles living in the water. Fish numbers would increase, and during a flood the whole community would be able to fish much more.

They are not afraid of crocodiles. They understand them, these ‘mountain crocodiles’*; that’s because they are here since our ancestors’ period. They feel that those crocodiles have never harmed anyone in the community. They feel blissful that these mountain crocodiles continue to exist until the present day.

They [the community] are really happy about the presence of the crocodiles. Moreover, with the assistance of FFI preserving crocodiles, they hope that those crocodiles can continue to exist for a long time. They are pleased with that [work].

People in our Pur Boeng community hope that there will always be crocodiles, as well as fishes and other natural resources. They wish there were no threats to the crocodile in the protected zone.

If there are crocodiles, then fishes and other natural resources will be here, and our community will be prosperous.

Sim Khmao's son (right) joins Han Sam (middle) and Sim Khmao (left) on a Siamese crocodile patrol. Credit: Pablo Sinovas/FFI
Sim Khmao’s son (right) joins Han Sam (middle) and Sim Khmao (left) on a Siamese crocodile patrol. Credit: Pablo Sinovas/FFI

With a record ten wild baby Siamese crocodiles recently spotted in the Cardamom Mountains, we are proud to be partnering with communities and wardens such as Sim Khmao to transform the fortunes one of Cambodia’s most charismatic species.

*’Mountain crocodile’ is the literal translation from Khmer of ‘Siamese crocodile’.