KIEN SVAY DISTRICT, Kandal Province – Rumors of crocodiles lurking in the Mekong River did not keep farmers in Kandal province’s Kien Svay district from wading waist-high into the river to clean cattle or wash soybeans Tuesday afternoon. They appeared unfazed by warnings issued this week by district authorities after crocodiles apparently were spotted in the area.
But children who gathered near the riverbank have become wary of the water since word of stray crocodiles reached their Phum Thom commune. They’re frightened to go swimming now, some of them said.
Kandal province officials in Lvea Em and Kien Svay districts have advised villagers to be extra careful when swimming and bathing in the river.
Soth Year, Kien Svay district governor, said a crocodile was seen as recently as Saturday in the district. In Lvea Em, Police Chief Boeng Khoeurn said villagers saw about 10 small crocodiles in the river on Sunday.
If there are any crocodiles in the Mekong, the reptiles are probably farm-raised escapees, said Boyd Simpson, a crocodile specialist working with Fauna and Flora International’s Cambodia office. Wild crocodiles in Cambodia are small in number and live in remote regions, he said.
Approximately 500 small crocodile farms are located throughout Cambodia, each with about a dozen animals. Farmers often transport their crocodiles, typically sold for their skin and sometimes meat, along the Mekong. “There’s a good chance for them to escape,” Simpson said.
The number of Siamese crocodiles, which are Cambodia’s native variety, still living in the wild has shrunk to about 300. The other variety of wild crocodiles in Cambodia are of the saltwater variety, which live in coastal regions.
“The Siamese crocodiles have had it pretty bad over the past few years,” Simpson said. The reptiles, which are facing extinction, have fallen victim to poachers as well as loss of natural habitat. “Really now the only population left is in the Cardamom Mountains,” he said.
The crocodiles living in farms are a mix of saltwater, Siamese and Cuban varieties, Simpson said. Kien Svay and Lvea Em district officials said there were no crocodile farms within their districts, and that they were unsure of the crocodiles’ origins.
Even if there were Siamese crocodiles living near the villages that dot the Mekong, Simpson said they are not considered dangerous.