On a late November day in the Kampong Seila district of Cambodia’s Preah Sihanouk province, 51 critically endangered freshwater turtles swam into the warm waters of the Sre Ambel River, returning to the wild. The muddy water filled with dark, sleek shells and then, within moments, they slid into the current and disappeared.
The reintroduction constitutes the latest and largest step taken to save a species known locally as the royal turtle, but globally as the southern river terrapin (Batagur affinis). This international effort began in earnest in 2000 after the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the Cambodian Fisheries Administration (FiA) rediscovered the species in the Southeast Asian nation. Once believed to be extinct in Cambodia, the southern river terrapin is still listed as one of the 25 most endangered tortoises and freshwater turtles in the world. However, the EU, WCS and FiA are all working hard to give the animal a comeback.