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"It was the biggest ever release of captive bred Siamese crocodiles into the wild and is a major step forward in our efforts to boost the recovery of this critically endangered species in one of its last remaining strongholds."
PHNOM PENH-- The largest ever release of critically endangered Siamese crocodiles into Cambodia's wild last month has raised hope for the long-term reptile conservation and survival, conservationists said on Wednesday.
Siamese Crocodile, or Crocodylus siamensis, is listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List as critically endangered, with roughly 250 individuals estimated to be surviving in the rivers of Cambodia.
Pablo Sinovas, flagship species manager with Fauna & Flora International (FFI)'s Cambodia program, said conservationists from the FFI and its partners in Cambodia freed 25 Siamese crocodiles at the Chhay Reap area in the Sre Ambel River in southwestern Cambodia's Koh Kong province earlier in March.
"Three crocodiles have been fitted with satellite tags and all 25 were fitted with acoustic transmitters, the first time the species has been tracked in this way, allowing conservationists to collect vital data about the species' range and behavior," he told Xinhua.
"It was the biggest ever release of captive bred Siamese crocodiles into the wild and is a major step forward in our efforts to boost the recovery of this critically endangered species in one of its last remaining strongholds," he said.
Sinovas said the carefully managed release of 25 crocodiles represented a massive boost to the survival chances of a critically endangered reptile, which was feared extinct until its rediscovery in the remote Cardamom Mountains two decades ago.
He said the success of this ground-breaking conservation breeding and release program, which has now seen over 136 crocodiles released into the wild, is underpinned by the effectiveness of community-led monitoring and anti-poaching activities at key breeding sites in Cambodia.
"The Siamese crocodile is still on the critical list, but the intensive care that this species has received from FFI, the Cambodian government and local communities in the two decades since its rediscovery is beginning to pay real dividends," he said. "Community wardens continue to play a pivotal role in the success of the Cambodian Crocodile Conservation Project."
Sinovas said tagging and health checks before release took place at the Phnom Tamao conservation breeding facility, managed by FFI in partnership with the Cambodian Forestry Administration.
"At the start of the 21st century, these crocodiles were thought to be extinct in the wild. Two decades on, we're able to use the latest technology to help us monitor their population and aid their recovery," he said.
"It's an exciting moment for conservationists but also for all of Cambodia. Step by step, one of the world's rarest reptiles is being brought back from the brink of extinction," he added.
Keo Omaliss, director general of Cambodia's Forestry Administration, said the release of wild crocodiles is playing an important role in securing wild populations, although it is a slow process.
"Success comes from the commitment of all stakeholders, especially local communities," he said. "Importantly, as part of these efforts, we are also protecting other wildlife that share the habitat with Siamese crocodiles."