May 26, 2006

Social Research in the known range of Batagur baska in Cambodia

A social survey was carried out throughout the currently known range in Cambodia of Batagur baska on 13th-16th March 2006.  It was a long awaited survey that aimed to try and get to the bottom of the issue of the disappearing adult Batagur baska and most importantly to get an updated and better idea about whether fishing practices constitute a more important threat than earlier assessed, if there are other threats we are not addressing, as well as to evaluate current education methods and the effectiveness of our conservation project to date.

The survey was a joint collaboration between the Department of Fisheries, Wildlife Conservation Society and PhD. candidate Rohan Holloway from the University of Canberra.  We worked in two teams, one led by Rohan with local survey consultancy group Crossroads, and the other led by Kate McMahon with Heng Sovannara and two students from Prek Leap University and Chamkar Dong University- Chhun Sopheak and Nhem Sopheason.    

Rohan?s team focused on interviewing fishermen in the villages along the Sre Ambel, Kaong and Prek Piphot rivers in Koh Kong Province.  His team carried out questionnaires, semi-structured interviews and focus groups in ten villages. Kate?s team carried out education evaluation surveys in the Sre Ambel district.  Her team also surveyed children in the riverside villages and the local schools.   During this time Kate also mapped the human impacts along the rivers, particularly areas of logging and development.

We aimed to gather information that would help define our conservation needs and give us a better understanding of the locals living in the area- for example, ascertaining literacy levels, poverty levels, religious beliefs and values.  The survey assessed the threats to Batagur baska by finding out more about the turtle trade, predators, and competitors.  It gathered more in depth information about the changes/ impacts to the area: developments, roads, mining, charcoal production, logging, flooding, fires, pollution, mangrove exploitation, land, river and beach use, drainage of wetlands, droughts, changes to riparian and beach vegetation. The surveys also served to discover any information about Batagur baska that we do not already know. Once the information gathered has been analysed, a clearer picture of the current situation for Batagur baska should emerge, as well as give us an indication of where we should go from here. 

Positive findings for the conservation of Batagur from the surveys included: discovering that the Vietnamese community on the Stung Prot believe Batagur is poisonous and will not eat it; there is a larger Muslim community in Sre Ambel than we thought, which is good for conservation due to their beliefs about not eating turtles; the WCS conservation team patrols and education efforts seem to be having a positive effect as stories emerged of locals independently releasing caught Batagur back into the river.

The most interesting discovery took place when Rohan?s team went to neighbouring district Botum Sakor to interview fishermen up the Prek Piphot river.  Near the mouth of the Stung Prot river near Chiphat village, one fisherman?s family had a yearling Batagur at their house, which they handed over to Rohan and the survey team.  This is potentially a very significant find- although juvenile Batagur have been found on the Stung Prot before, we have never found nests, and the likelihood of a yearling Batagur to migrate from the Sre Ambel river system to the Stung Prot/Prek Piphot river system is low, furthermore, therefore may indicate an unknown nesting population in this river. 
More from Rohan on this soon?

For more information, contact:

Kate McMahon
Batagur baska Conservation Project
Wildlife Conservation Society Cambodia