Cambodia discovers nest of critically endangered 'royal turtles'

PHNOM PENH - Wildlife experts in Cambodia have discovered a nest with 16 eggs built by the nearly extinct "royal turtle", in the first such discovery this year, the non-profit Wildlife Conservation (WCS) Society said on Monday (Feb 19).

The southern river terrapin, known in Cambodia as the "royal turtle" because its eggs were historically reserved for royalty, is one of the world's 25 most endangered freshwater turtles, the WCS says.

Over the past two years, just three such nests have been found in Cambodia, it added.

"Illegal clearance of flooded forest and illegal fishing puts this species at risk," said Som Sitha, a technical adviser to the WCS.

"Everyone can help conserve our national reptile by not purchasing or eating their meat and eggs."

Wildlife rangers in the southwestern province of Koh Kong, where the eggs were discovered along a river by villagers and conservationists, including the WCS, are guarding them until they hatch, the conservation group said in a statement.

Populations of Batagur affinis, as the species is known to zoologists, are "severely depleted", it added, as it is hunted for its flesh and large eggs, and faced with habitat destruction.

The turtle was believed extinct in Cambodia until 2000, when a small population was rediscovered by conservationists.