Tortoise and freshwater turtle field skills training course: Building the capacity of students in Cambodia

Conservation International, in cooperation with the Vietnam-based Asian Turtle Program, has undertaken the country's first formal student training initiative focused on developing experience and training in conservation of Cambodia?s tortoises and freshwater turtles. The Field Skills Development Training course, which was funded by a Shellshock grant from Chester Zoo, was hosted by CI and the Forestry Administration at the Thma Bang ranger station in the Cardamom Mountains Protected Forest from 8-16th November 2006.

The trainees were students and recent graduates from the Royal University of Agriculture and the Royal University of Phnom Penh. Two scholarships are to be made available to course participants to carry out turtle research projects of their own design, thereby encouraging further involvement in turtle research in Cambodia while providing data that will help conservationists. An additional two grants will be given to students who wish to conduct turtle-related research for their final year thesis. CI staff will provide in-country mentoring and technical support.

The course consisted of a series of lectures combined with hands-on practical activities in the forests and rivers of the Central Cardamoms. This course, which was adapted from a turtle field skills training course in Vietnam, provides students with an introduction to field research. It aims to encourage further interest and provide opportunities for involvement in turtle research and conservation in Cambodia. The course provided training in core topics including turtle identification, scientific research questions and study design, interview-based surveys, survey methods, measuring and mapping, documenting field records, and nesting and reproduction. The role of research in conservation was also discussed so the trainees would understand the importance of basing conservation activities on good scientific data.

Course highlights:

  • Each student was given two turtle traps to place in suitable locations in the nearby rivers and marshes as a practical experiment to assess the application of traps as a viable survey method for aquatic turtles. One student captured an adult Asian Leaf Turtle (Cyclemys atripons).

  • Interview skills, practiced in the classroom, were put into use in the local village, where students collected valuable information on several species and were presented with eleven shells from three species, Cyclemys atripons, Indotestudo elongata and Amyda cartilaginea.

  • Safe handling of turtle eggs was an enjoyable component of the course, wherein we made a replica of a nesting beach of the critically endangered Mangrove Terrapin (Batagur baska) and taught the trainees how to find nests and safely handle eggs. We plan for at least one trainee to be involved in protection of Batagur baska nests on the Sre Ambel River in spring 2007.

  • Compass use, reading and plotting points on maps, taking accurate measurements, and using GPS are covered in the mapping module of the course. Students complete a mapping practical during the training course to ensure they understand these essential field skills.

  • The trainees learned how to accurately document field records using the ATCN reporting format, a useful tool when developing an understanding of the distribution and status of turtles in the wild and of identifying priority sites and populations for protection. The wild-caught Cyclemys atripons and the shells from the village were used to complete field records of genuine importance.

    The training course is part of ongoing efforts by Conservation International (CI) and the Asian Turtle Program (ATP) to build national interest and expertise in tortoise and freshwater turtle conservation. The next course will be held in Myanmar in 2007. These courses will be repeated annually in Vietnam, Cambodia and Myanmar.


    Sitha Som, BP Turtle Team Leader, BP Turtle Team, Cambodia
    David Emmett, Regional Biologist, Conservation International, Indo-Burma Program
    Tim McCormack, Research coordinator, Asian Turtle Program

Support for the training course was kindly provided by a Shellshock grant from the European Association of Zoos & Aquaria (EAZA) conservation campaign, with technical support from Conservation International and Cleveland Metroparks Zoo.

For more information please contact:

David Emmett
Conservation International
Phnom Penh, Cambodia
David Emmett

Additional information about conservation activities across the region can be viewed on the Asian Turtle Conservation Network website: