DNA testing offers new hope for one of world’s rarest crocodiles

Fauna & Flora International has commenced an exciting new DNA analysis of the captive crocodile population at a wildlife centre in Cambodia, in collaboration with the Cambodian Forestry Administration and Wildlife Alliance. The purpose of the project is to determine which of the crocodiles housed at the centre are pure-bred Siamese crocodiles (Crocodylus siamensis) and which are hybrids. If a suitable number of pure-bred Siamese crocodiles can be identified through DNA analysis, it will mark the beginning of the first ever “Siamese crocodile captive breed and release” programme in Cambodia.

The Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre, a facility run by the Government of Cambodia, houses animals rescued from the illegal wildlife trade, which are unable to be released back to their natural habitats, including more than 70 crocodiles. Extinct from 99% of its original range, the Siamese crocodile is listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List and on CITES Appendix I. Once common and widespread throughout Southeast Asia, Siamese crocodiles declined swiftly during the 20th century until they were declared “effectively extinct in the wild” (IUCN Crocodile Action Plan, 1992).

If DNA analysis is successful, crocodiles identified as pure-bred will be isolated in specialised enclosures to participate in a captive breeding programme towards the end of 2009. Potential future offspring would then be raised over a two-year period for release at five selected sites with suitable natural habitats in southwest Cambodia.