Will she, or won’t she…only time will tell!

In Cambodia, an adult female Southern River Terrapin (Batagur affinis) has been testing the sands of a recently created artificial nest site at the Koh Kong Reptile Conservation Center (KKRCC). It’s with high hopes that she will utilize this nesting area in the coming days to deposit eggs. Should egg laying commence, it will be a momentous occasion, as no Southern River Terrapin maintained at the KKRCC assurance colony has yet to deposit eggs since its ceremonious opening in November 2017.

READ: “A Royal Conservation Effort for Cambodia”

During the KKRCC’s construction phase, commencing in late 2015, this adult female terrapin was donated to the center by her owner after being captured from the wild by fishermen and kept as a pet for the better part of two decades. Now she’s part of a comprehensive plan to save her Critically Endangered species.

The KKRCC maintains a burgeoning assurance colony of Southern River Terrapins of various age classes. Here, 202 terrapins are managed in five large ponds and ten fiberglass tubs. Many of these are large juveniles and subadults, F1 (first filial generation) products of the Wildlife Conservation Society / The Royal Government of Cambodia’s Fisheries Administration (FiA) / Turtle Survival Alliance nest protection program on the Sre Ambel River. The Sre Ambel is the last known stronghold of the terrapin in Cambodia. The particular pond this female inhabits is home to nearly 30 subadult and adult individuals, roughly half of which are female. Some of these could now be reproductively viable.

The Southern River Terrapin naturally nests on sandbars. To recreate their nesting substrate preference, and in an effort to localize nesting, Chris Poyser (WCS Cambodia) and his local staff constructed an artificial sandbank enclosed by fencing. Within days, the female crawled from the pond and started digging in the sand. She’s repeated this several times without depositing eggs. This, however, is not uncommon as female Batagur will often perform a series of exploratory diggings before at last merging to lay her eggs. To-date, no eggs have been deposited.

To monitor her activities, Steven Platt (WCS Myanmar), Sitha Som (WCS Cambodia) and Chris Poyser installed three automated game cameras in and around the nesting area. Not only have these cameras captured footage of the female in action, but they also captured at least one other female investigating the artificial nest bank. But, because these large, dark turtles appear almost identical in the black and white nocturnal footage, it’s possible that other females have come to investigate the nesting area as well.

Only time will tell if this and other females will engage in the momentous occasion to be the first Southern River Terrapins to successfully nest at the Koh Kong Reptile Conservation Center. Stay tuned for more news from Cambodia!

Video: Steven G. Platt

We would like to thank Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS) for the continuous support to the project, especially the construction of the center. We also thank our private donors (past and present) for their generous donations to the construction of the center including the Alan and Patricia Koval Foundation, Jay Allen, and San Diego Zoo Global. We would also like to thank donors from the European Union, US Forest Service, and Rainforest Trust who support our field conservation efforts.

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