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Conservation Center In Cambodia Hopes To Revive Nearly Extinct Turtles

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Now we have a story of a creature once threatened by people. It's the royal turtle which is the national reptile of Cambodia. Its eggs were once a delicacy reserved solely for the royal family.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The royal turtle was believed extinct, and then a small population was found in 2000. So the species is still going, but habitat loss and sand dredging as well as predators remain threats.

ROSS SINCLAIR: The population was as small as three to five breeding females, so it was really just hanging on by a very thin thread.

MONTAGNE: That's Ross Sinclair director of the Cambodia program at the Bronx Zoo's Wildlife Conservation Society. They're working with Cambodia's fisheries administration to save the species.

INSKEEP: So they purchased 20 acres of land on the south coast of Cambodia for a new breeding facility. Then they had to find turtles to fill that state of the art facility.

SINCLAIR: Community members and rangers patrol up the rivers, and if they find a sign of a nest, they then notify us and we pay that community member to guard the nest 24 hours a day until it hatches.

MONTAGNE: The guards then round up the hatchlings and bring them to safety. Two hundred and six turtles were shipped to the new facility this week where they'll stay until fully grown - about 20 inches.

INSKEEP: So here's to a long life for the royal turtle and for their new kingdom. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.