- ES Home
- What We Do
- Candidate Conservation
- Listing and Critical Habitat
- For Landowners
- About Us
- FWS Regions
- Laws & Policies
- For Kids
- Celebrating 40 Years of International Wildlife Conservation
- From competition to cooperation: A win for the broad-snouted caiman
- Operation Crash: Service Investigators Tackle Rhino Horn Trafficking
- Conserving Asia's Wild Elephants
- Saving the Siamese Crocodile
- Protecting Africa's Last Rhino Populations from Poaching
Saving the Siamese Crocodile
by Tsu Sheng Yap
Photo Credit: Jeremy Holden, Fauna & Flora International
Once a common resident of wetlands throughout southeastern Asia, the Siamese crocodile (Crocodylus siamensis) is now one of the most endangered crocodile species in the world. Over the years, excessive hunting and habitat destruction have nearly driven the species to extinction. Just 150 to 250 adult crocodiles are known to survive in the wild today, in just one percent of its former range—the remote highlands of Cambodia.
Although protected by the Endangered Species Act and CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), the species is still threatened by illegal egg collection and entrapment in fishing nets. Because Siamese crocodile numbers are precariously low, and the wild population is too small and fragmented to recover naturally, captive breeding and reintroduction programs now represent the last hope for reversing the decline of this species. Cambodia is home to the largest known populations of the species and represents the best opportunity for its recovery. The Cambodian Crocodile Conservation Program (CCCP), co-founded by Fauna & Flora International (FFI) and the Royal Government of Cambodia's Forestry Administration, is taking a lead role in saving this critically endangered crocodile and its globally important wetland habitat.
Funding from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's (Service) Wildlife Without Borders conservation fund supports CCCP's captive-breeding facility at the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center, which is currently home to two breeding crocodile pairs, nine juveniles, and five hatchlings.
In the last year, the Service has also supported the reintroduction of 18 captive-bred juveniles from Phnom Tamao back into the wild. Biologists use radio transmitters to track the released crocodiles, which are acclimating well to life in the wild. At least five of these transmitters are expected to remain active through November 2013, helping CCCP determine where the crocodiles spend time post wet-season.
In addition to captive breeding and reintroduction efforts, the CCCP responds to urgent threats such as dam construction and other habitat disturbances, and works closely with local communities to protect and monitor wild populations. Over 50 Cambodian government officers have been trained in crocodile ecology and methods for identifying and monitoring Siamese crocodiles, and 22 community crocodile wardens have been hired and trained to conduct weekly patrols and submit monthly reports on threats to the crocodile and its habitat. Additionally, more than 80 percent of residents at one of the project sites report that their livelihoods are improving through social support, including increased sustainable sources of income, food security, and education.
Photo Credit: Sam Han
Increased awareness of the importance of Siamese crocodiles is translating into policy, with Cambodian government officials calling for stricter penalties for hunting or illegally trading crocodiles. FFI also works closely with the Cardamom Mountains Community Empowerment Project, the Learning Institute, and other organizations specializing in local development. Together, these organizations are integrating ecosystem services into community mobilization and livelihoods development work in O'Som, which is home to the largest known Siamese crocodile population in the world.
FFI is also working to establish additional reintroduction sites and designate the Veal Veng Marsh Community Sanctuary into a nationally protected crocodile sanctuary under the Ministry of Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries. National level designation will help ensure the security of suitable habitat for the wild Siamese crocodile that may be degraded by hydropower and mining development, which are currently threatening forest areas in the Cardamom Mountains. Today, the CCCP, with support from 17 villages, is working to establish three major crocodile sanctuaries. The sanctuaries replenish the wild fish stocks that people depend on and benefit a host of other endangered wildlife.
The Veal Veng Marsh Sanctuary in O'Som, the world's largest Siamese crocodile colony, is an important wetland for the Siamese crocodiles and was slated to be converted to rice paddies. The Areng sanctuary, which may be threatened by hydroelectric dam construction, hosts the second largest population of approximately 30 crocodiles. If final confirmation of the dam construction is forthcoming, these crocodiles will be captured by the CCCP and relocated to a secure release site within Koh Kong Province. Chhay Reap sanctuary also has a small breeding crocodile population.
What began just a decade ago with biological surveys in post-conflict Cambodia and the rediscovery of the species in the wild has turned into a successful captive breeding and reintroduction program, with numerous sites established to protect the species and its habitat with the participation of local. With the growing support of the Cambodian government and its citizens, and the protections that ESA and CITES listing offers, the Siamese crocodile stands a greater chance for survival.
Tsu Sheng Yap interned with the Division of International Conservation in the Service's International Affairs Program during the Summer of 2013.
What We Do
- Habitat Conservation Plans (HCPs)
- Safe Harbor Agreements
- Candidate Conservation Agreements
- Candidate Conservation Agreements with Assurances
- Recovery Credits and Tax Deductions
- Conservation Banking
- Conservation Plans Database
- Information, Planning and Conservation System (IPaC)
- Recovery Online Activity Reporting System (ROAR)
- News Stories
- Featured Species
- Recovery Success Stories
- Endangered Species Bulletin
- Partnership Stories