December 2006

Repatriated Batagur baska Released back into the Wild

For the past four years, Cambodia?s Department of Fisheries in collaboration with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) has been monitoring and conserving a small population of the CITES I listed, Critically Endangered River terrapins (Batagur baska) in Sre Ambel, Koh Kong province.  Part of the conservation program includes releasing confiscated Batagurs back into their natural habitat.

Director of the Fisheries Department Nao Thouk (kneeling center right), veterinarian Martin Gilbert (center holding turtle), local officials, Buddhist monks, and Sre Ambel area residents join in the release of the Batagur baska, repatriated to Cambodia in July 2005 after its being rescued from the illegal trade in Vietnam.

One particular 15 kg Batagur was confiscated from the daughter of the Governor of Kompong Seila District on 28 Feb 2003 and at that stage had reportedly been in captivity for five months. DoF and WCS released it with a microchip and a radio transmitter on 3 March 2003, it then hurried downstream and was lost in the saline water that day.
On 20 June 2005 the Tay Ninh Forest Protection Department (FPD), Vietnam, confiscated a Batagur baska (extinct in Vietnam). Julia Shaw from Wildlife at Risk (WAR) contacted various turtle specialists who advised that it was a very significant confiscation, and urged to reconsider releasing the animal in Vietnam.  From a conservation standpoint the most appropriate action was to return this animal to Cambodia (after an appropriate quarantine and health inspection) where it could become part of a wild breeding population. 
WCS advised that the turtle was probably captured illegally in Cambodia and most likely originated from the Sre Ambel River. WCS asked that the turtle be checked by a microchip reader on the chance that it could be one of the few adult individuals that had been microchipped in Sre Ambel. Nguyen Huu Hung, the legal director of FPD, HCMC had an AVID microchip reader, so the turtle was checked and it was discovered that this individual was the same one released in Sre Ambel on 3 March 2003.
After an unprecedented and successful collaboration between the Department of Fisheries in Cambodia and the Vietnamese Forest Protection Department, as well as conservation groups in both Cambodia and Vietnam, CITES permits were obtained and the turtle was repatriated to Cambodia.
On 14 July 2005, the turtle was repatriated overland by Nguyen Huu Hung,FPD, HCMC and Nguyen Vu Khoi from WAR. On 15 July 2005 the Dept. of Fisheries held a short ceremony to thank the Vietnamese FPD staff for their tremendous efforts.
Since July the turtle has remained in Phnom Penh under the veterinary supervision of Martin Gilbert, WCS, and partner Nadia Sureda.  The turtle was administered prophylactic treatment, checked on at least twice a day, seven days a week. His water was changed every 1-3 days to give his plastron and leg lesions the chance to heal, and he was fed twice a day.  Meanwhile, we waited for the pending health screen results to confirm that he did not pick up any diseases during his ordeal.

His health improved in this quarantine environment significantly. With the results of his health screen completed by WCS in New York, he has been cleared for release, and was returned to the Sre Ambel River system, Koh Kong Province on 16 December 2005.

Contributed by Kate McMahon
WCS Cambodia Program
December 2006