Crocodile crisis in Cambodia

Fauna & Flora International has launched an emergency public appeal to raise funds to save a critical breeding population of some of the world’s last remaining Siamese crocodiles.

The construction of a hydropower dam in Cambodia’s Cardamom Mountains will obliterate the second largest population of Siamese crocodiles if they are not immediately relocated.

On 8 February, it was announced that a hydropower dam will be built by the China Guodian Corporation on the Areng River. The dam will erase the river’s resident Critically Endangered Siamese crocodiles – at least 5% of the global breeding population – and force six villages to relocate. The company aims to begin construction in July.

The Areng River is well known to Fauna & Flora International (FFI). For more than a decade, the Cambodian Crocodile Conservation Programme, a joint initiative between FFI and the Cambodian Government’s Forestry Administration, has been working with indigenous people to conserve the Critically Endangered Siamese crocodiles. Through the support of this programme the local communities have successfully protected crocodiles from poaching, habitat degradation and human conflict.

Urgent action is needed if the Areng population of Siamese crocodiles is to be saved

Urgent action is needed if the Areng population of Siamese crocodiles is to be saved. Credit: Jeremy Holden/FFI

The Areng River crocodile population is now stable at 30-40 adults and subadults. As the second largest known Siamese crocodile population in the world, this site is one of only a handful where this species breeds. This important population, and FFI’s conservation work here, was featured by National Geographic and the BBC’s Saving Planet Earth.

If no action is taken, the entire crocodile population will be lost. Construction of the dam could begin as early as July this year, and empirical evidence from dams built elsewhere in Cambodia and Vietnam means FFI scientists are able to determine the breakdown of timing and events in what could be the last weeks of these crocodile’s lives.

Before the dam is constructed, hundreds of migrant workers will flood into the site to clear the forest and opportunistic poachers will try to take anything of value, including crocodiles. This deforestation will render the narrow Areng river uninhabitable for crocodiles. Local community wardens and government rangers will find it difficult to defend the crocodiles and other wildlife from the large numbers of newcomers.

The construction of the dam will create a 20,000 hectare reservoir. While in theory crocodiles can live in a reservoir, artificially fluctuating water levels will make it impossible for them to nest successfully. Reservoirs also attract commercial fishers, and even large Siamese crocodiles are highly prone to becoming entangled and drowned in fishing nets.

The Forestry Administration has asked for FFI’s urgent assistance to relocate the crocodiles to a proposed Crocodile Sanctuary in another remote part of the Cardamom Mountains, approximately 70 km away. Our crocodile experts have surveyed the site and can confirm it will give the crocodiles the habitat and security they need.

Time is of the essence. The Cambodian Crocodile Conservation Programme field personnel will rescue the crocodiles from March through May. This operation MUST be completed by June, when the rainy season will transform the Areng River into a white-water torrent, making it extremely difficult and dangerous to catch crocodiles.

The rescue operation will cost approximately US$50,000 / GBP£35,000 / AUD$49,000 / SGD $62,000

Our joint team of dedicated FFI and Forestry Administration staff has the advantages of an in-depth knowledge of the location and the species, experience of catching and transporting Siamese crocodiles, and very strong grassroots support from local indigenous people.

In short, there are no organisations better placed to save the Areng crocodiles. This Critically Endangered species can be saved, but only if we can raise funds urgently.