ATCN News

May 2007

Turtle Survey of Prey Long, Cambodia
4-16 MAY 2007

BY SITHA SOM, YOEUNG SUN, SOKHORN KHENG, CHAMNAN KIM

Introduction
Prey Long is surrounded by three provinces in the northeastern Cambodia, Kompong Thom on the West, Kratie on the East, Stung Treng on the North of Cambodia. Before and until now, Prey Long is under controlled by concession companies such as Colexim, Gat, Pheapimix Fuchun, and Everbright. These companies are stopped their activities for now but still in contract with government. Not many research and studies have been done in this pristine area before. Previous research shows that it is being rich in biodiversity and natural resource such as chelonian, fish, birds, other wildlife, and luxury wood. The area has many streams which flow into Cambodian Mekong River. Previous surveys also show that there are many threats being occurred in Prey Long causing by people hunting and poaching wildlife for food and trade and there are many loggers are cutting down quality wood for selling to support people need. The June 2005 turtle survey in Prey Long by BP team confirmed four turtles and tortoise species (elongated tortoise, Asian box turtle, Asian leaf turtle, and Asiatic soft-shell turtle) through shell and live specimens.

Prey Long contains many streams which flow into the Mekong River, as well as permanent and temporary standing wetlands (ponds and marshes).  In addition, there are large areas of flooded forest.  These freshwater habitats provide ideal conditions for several of Asia?s globally threatened freshwater turtles. In addition, the deciduous dipterocarp forests provide suitable habitat for one of Cambodia?s most endangered tortoises, the Elongated Tortoise. Our aim was to assess the current species composition, distribution, relative abundance, and threats to tortoises and freshwater turtles in Prey Long, and to review the conservation importance of the area for turtles.

Methods
Semi-structured interviews with local guides and hunters provided anecdotal information about the turtle species that are present in Prey Long and the threats that they face. We used the Photographic Guide to the Turtles of Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia to help the local people with their identifications and to relate their local names to scientific names. We recorded information on all turtles that hunters had captured, and photographed all live turtles and turtle shells we encountered.  We also recorded details of collection techniques used by hunters and information on turtle trade.

We used two methods to survey for turtles - timed searches and live-trapping. Timed searches were carried out during the day and at night.  During these timed searches we walked though areas of suitable habitat, looking for turtles in good locations (e.g., under vegetation, alongside streams, in marshes).  We timed the search and recorded the number of observers so that we could work out the number of turtles found per person-hour.  This allows us to compare between sites.

Live-capture traps were used to assess the composition of turtle populations.  Nine traps measuring 70cm long, 50cm wide and 30cm high were used.  Trapping was conducted for seven nights.   Traps were placed in suitable microhabitats in shallow water with part of each trap above the water surface, allowing trapped turtles to breathe.  We chose baits for the turtle traps that were strong smelling to attract turtles. We used meat and fruit to attract turtle species with different diets.  Bait used included chicken, fish, durian, prohok (a paste made from fermented fish), jackfruit, coconut, pineapple, and banana.

Results
Our survey results and the information we collected from local guides and hunters indicated that seven species of turtle occur in Prey Long and that an eighth species, a deep-water river softshell turtle, occurs in the greater Prey Long area where it borders the Mekong River (see Table 1).

We captured three turtles during timed searches and observed seven turtles in the possession of local hunters during the course of this survey, but no turtles were captured in traps.  In total, the 2005 and 2007 surveys together documented five of these species in the wild or in the presence of hunters within the forest.  The presence of a sixth species, Pelochelys cantorii, was confirmed in the Mekong River during a CI- and WWF-funded river turtle study in February 2007.  The last two species, the Black Marsh Turtle Siebenrockiella crassicollis and the Yellow-headed Temple turtle Hieremys annandalii were only documented from anecdotal evidence, so their presence in Prey Long still needs to be confirmed.  The wetland habitats within Prey Long are also ideal for the Malayan Snail-eating Turtle Malayemys subtrijuga, although this species was not recorded in our surveys or interviews.

Table 1. Turtles reported from Prey Long from preliminary surveys in 2005 and more extensive interviews and surveys in 2007

Scientific name

 

Common Name

 

Conservation Status (IUCN)

 

Record

2005 Survey

2007

Interviews

Hunters

Survey

Amyda cartilaginea

Asiatic softshell turtle

Vulnerable

X

X

X

 

Cyclemys cf. tcheponensis

Asian leaf turtle

Near Threatened

X

X

X

 

Cuora amboinensis

Asian box turtle

Vulnerable

X

X

 

 

Indotestudo elongata

Elongated tortoise

Endangered

X

X

 

 

Heosemys grandis

Giant Asian pond turtle

Vulnerable

 

X

X

X

Hieremys annandalii

Yellow-headed temple turtle

Endangered

 

X

 

 

Siebenrockiella crassicollis

Black marsh turtle

Vulnerable

 

X

 

 

Pelochelys cantorii

Asian giant softshell turtle

Endangered

 

X*

 

 


* Mekong River species

Threats to Turtles
Interviews and observations made during this survey revealed that all species of freshwater turtles and tortoises in Prey Long were under threat from collection by local villagers for food and sale into the wildlife trade.  The Elongated Tortoise Indotestudo elongata is also likely to be threatened by the loss of deciduous forest habitats to illegal forest clearing.

Many people in this area catch turtles to sell to wildlife traders who reportedly live in Kratie province. Interviewees indicated that a significant proportion of the turtles collected in Prey Long are smuggled to Vietnam.  This matches turtle trade information collected in other parts of Cambodia (Som et al. 2005).  According to interviewees, many of the turtle collectors were reported to come from Sandan District in Kampong Thom province.  During the survey, we met three turtle hunters with four hunting dogs and all were from Sandan district.  These hunters reported that middle-men at their village would buy turtles from them. Depending on species and weight, the turtles they caught fetched between US$1-10/kg. The hunters had seven turtles in their baskets, consisting of one Giant Asian Pond Turtle (Heosemys grandis), three Asian Leaf Turtles (Cyclemys cf. tcheponensis), and three Asiatic Softshell Turtles (Amyda cartilaginea).

Conclusion
Prey Long contains at least five species of tortoise and freshwater turtle and, if the identification is correct, it is the only site in Cambodia where the Asian Leaf Turtle Cyclemys tcheponensis is known to occur.  The site appears to be nationally important for conservation of the following turtle species: the Asian Leaf Turtle Cyclemys tcheponensis, the Asian Giant Pond Turtle Heosemys grandis, and the Asian Box Turtle Cuora amboinensis.  However, all of these species are threatened by uncontrolled collection both for local consumption and for the wildlife trade.