A breeding program for Siamese crocodiles in preparation

A Siamese crocodile at Srepok Wildlife Sanctuary in Mondulkiri Province in January. WWF CAMBODIA

The Ministry of Environment and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF Cambodia) are teaming up to breed the Siamese crocodile (Crocodylus siamensis) in captivity to increase its numbers in the Srepok Wildlife Sanctuary in Mondulkiri Province.

Cambodia currently has between 200 and 400 Siamese crocodiles, the highest number in the world for a single country. The total global population is estimated at between 500 and 1,000 animals spread across the region, according to ministry spokesman Neth Pheaktra.

During a September 2-4 visit to the Srepok shrine in Koh Nhek district, Pheaktra said the ministry and WWF Cambodia were making efforts to stimulate population growth.

“We started our study in 2005. We only saw animal tracks, but no crocodiles. Signs included droppings, footprints, or trails in the mud made by their tails. Then, in September 2021, we started seeing real baby Siamese crocodiles in the sanctuary, especially along the Srepok River,” he said.

According to Pheaktra, the baby Siamese crocodile has been present in the past both in Phnom Prich and other wildlife sanctuaries. However, due to threatening factors such as habitat loss, climate change, illegal fishing and, even worse, illegal poaching of crocodile eggs, they were unsure whether its population in Srepok remained. or had lost.

Pheaktra said it was not until September 2021 that they discovered the presence of living Siamese crocodiles at Srepok, which they then added to the existing number of known animals at the other sanctuaries.

“The Ministry of Environment and WWF are together studying how we can strengthen the population of Siamese crocodiles at Srepok Wildlife Sanctuary. The important thing is to strengthen its presence and its workforce, which for this place is a priority,” he said.

Quoting experts, he said if the number of Siamese crocodiles is too small, natural reproduction may take too long and waste time as their numbers may not increase fast enough to exceed losses.

Pheaktra said the notion of a breeding program was not so strange because Cambodia has already done a lot of work for other species like the king tortoise (Batagur affinis) and Cantor’s giant soft-shelled turtle (Pelochelys cantorii), both of which are rare species that have been successfully bred in captivity and then released into the wild.

“We are studying the breeding of certain species such as the Bengal florican (Houbaropsis bengalensis), which is one of the rarest species in the world with only 100 remaining in Cambodia. We are studying how to raise them so that we don’t lose them entirely, but we have to raise them scientifically and make sure they are adapted to nature so that they survive,” he said.

Pheaktra said the breeding of Siamese crocodiles has already been successfully carried out in the Kingdom by a team of experts including Fauna & Flora International (FFI) in collaboration with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS Cambodia) and the Ministry of Agriculture. environment, which released captive-bred crocodiles. in the region of Areng in the province of Koh Kong.

“It is shaping up to be a successful experiment as we already have a place for Siamese crocodiles in the Srepok sanctuary. So I think redeveloping the population on top of what we already have in the wild is a priority. We must consider the benefits related to the ecological system, natural tourism and the fundamental virtue of maintaining these rare species,” he said.

Seng Teak, national director of WWF Cambodia, said the organization was working with the Srepok conservation group and the ministry to boost its population in the area, as at least 10 Siamese crocodiles have been sighted at the sanctuary.

“Studies have shown that the reproduction of these crocodiles is a bit slow. So, in order to increase its numbers, since it is rare and can attract tourists, we will breed them in the Srepok region,” he said.

He said a healthier Siamese crocodile population could attract tourists, as the animal would nevertheless be very rare, and thus increase income for the community and the national budget.

According to Pheaktra, Cambodia has around 200 to 400 Siamese crocodiles, of which around 100 to 200 are believed to be of reproductive age, but the exact numbers are unknown given their elusiveness.

“The number of Siamese crocodiles in Cambodia is the highest in the world, but there are only between 500 and 1,000 Siamese crocodiles left on the planet. Our country is rich in biodiversity, with around 5,000 species in our wildlife sanctuaries and our national parks on a protected area of ​​7.3 million hectares,” he said.