The release of endangered Cantor's giant softshell turtle hatchlings will help save the giant freshwater species from extinction.
"With continuous support from our donors and good cooperation from the Fisheries Administration (FiA), plus strong commitments of our field staff and community nest protection team, the WCS has made significant progress in conserving this critically endangered turtle species over the past years," he said.
However, this species is being threatened by illegal hunting and trafficking. In 2021, at least nine individuals were seen trading online and two were found dead by illegal fishing, he added.
Cantor's Giant Softshell Turtle, Pelochelys cantorii, is listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species as Critically Endangered, said the statement.
Only a few records of the species exist in Laos and other countries, and it has disappeared across much of its former range in Vietnam and Thailand owing to poaching and trade of adult turtles and illegal collection of their eggs for food, according to WCS Cambodia.
The turtle species was thought to be extinct in the Cambodian portion of the Mekong River until it was re-discovered in 2007 in a 48-km stretch of the river between Kratie and Stung Treng provinces.
Ouk Vibol, director of the Department of Fisheries Conservation of Fisheries Administration, highly appreciated the participation of local authorities, the community and the WCS in the conservation of critically endangered turtles so that they can persist in the natural water bodies.
"All stakeholders should continue their efforts to conserve the threatened species, and those who still trade protected species will face legal action," he said.
"Cambodia has an incredible wealth of species and habitats. The Giant Softshell Turtles are one of the species that need protection urgently. Joint conservation efforts of communities, authorities and the WCS should continue to help the wild population recover," said Clemens Beckers, representative of the European Union (EU) Delegation in Cambodia, which funded the turtle conservation project.
"We all have a common goal of saving this species from extinction, and the EU remains committed to working with our partners to achieve this," he said.
Sharing the same deep pools along the Mekong River with Irrawaddy Dolphin and Mekong Giant Stingray, Cantor's Giant Softshell Turtle is truly an iconic species in the Mekong River, the statement said.
It added that the release of this flagship species will play a significant role in marking the return of one of the giant freshwater species from the brink of extinction.