If you’ve been wondering where in the world My Nature Experiences has been… it’s Cambodia. Far, far way in the land of lost temples, diverse culture and rich biodiversity. We’ve cruised the great Mekong, big lakes, seen many endangered species, witnessed rural lifestyle- but most importantly learnt so much about Cambodian people, culture and the great wilderness that surrounds the country.
Over 5 days my family and I were in midst of the busy city of Phnom Penh, tucked into a little known island in the middle of the Mekong, and in the middle of a majestic heritage, Angkor Wat. We did not go trekking into the forests, or explore the Mekong thoroughly, but we did see lots of species that fascinated me.
In Kratie, a village off the Mekong, we visited the Mekong Turtle Conservation Centre. It was an amazing experience and I learnt a lot from that visit.The first thing we saw were little boxes in the middle of the room. On looking closer, we saw small turtles swimming about on the sand.
The local guide there explained to us that we were looking at the hatchlings of an endangered and rare freshwater turtle, the Cantor’s giant softshell turtle (Pelocheys cantorii).I had never ever heard of the species before and was excited to learn more about these beautiful creatures.
Cantor’s giant softshell turtles are recognizable by their little eyes close to the tip of their snout. In Khmer (cambodian language) it is known as “Frog head turtle”.Their carapace is extremely smooth, making them very easy to feed on. Human impacts are the greatest threat to these freshwater turtles, due to illegal poaching, hunting, trade as well as fishing.
In the Mekong, fishermen use the by-catch method and long-lined baited hooks are used in the nets that easily catch turtles as well as other species, such as the critically endangered Irrawaddy dolphin. Dams, irrigation and logging cause habitat destruction to these turtles as their nests are very delicate.
I was amazed by how the Cambodian community has taken the initiative to protect and rehabilitate the softshell turtles. They were thought to be extinct in Cambodia until 2007, when it was rediscovered in Kratie. Conservation International (CI) started a community nest protection project where local people participated in releasing 1,000 hatchings into the Mekong between 2007 and 2011. This project is continuing due to the centre’s efforts to bring visitors to see the turtles first hand. They also conduct events where tourists and locals can help release them.
I could not resist asking to hold a hatchling. It was unbelievably soft, and its eyes and snout were adorable! I would have taken it back home, but I knew that it wasn’t going to be that small forever. Believe it or not- from that tiny, it can grow up to 6 feet ( 2 metre)!
Other than the Cantor’s softshell, the centre also had many other native turtle and tortoise species. This is a critically endangered Southern Mangrove terrapin turtle. It is found in mangroves and vegetated coastal areas in Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.
The Asian Box Turtle is commonly used for pet trade. Sadly, they are getting rarer in the wild and are classed as Vulnerable.
Another turtle we saw was the Southeast Asian Leaf Turtle, which are amphibious and is omnivorous. It is Near Threatened due to pet trade, food and traditional medicine.
I really hope the conservation project runs successfully and these precious turtles remain in healthy numbers. Do make a visit there if you go to Kratie, it’s really worth it. You will be really inspired by the people and the work they have done there.
After our visit to the Turtle Conservation centre, we went out and enjoyed the view of the Pillar Pagoda beside the centre. I saw a beautiful Multi-coloured St Andrew’s cross spider nearby.
To get to the villa we were staying in, we had to take a boat from the Kratie city to Koh Trong Island. In the resort, there were many flowers that were attracting butterflies, dragonflies and grasshoppers. In our short stay, I saw a Yellow pansy, a Lime Butterfly and these three grasshoppers (not sure of the species, will update when I find it)
On one of our special (look out for the upcoming blogpost for that) boat journey’ through the Mekong, we saw a few of these large water birds. After research I found out it was the Oriental Darter (Anhinga melanogaster), classified as Near Threatened. This majestic bird has a long, slender neck and has huge wings with silver streaks. It is absolutely amazing to see it spread its wings to sunbathe or prepare for a kill. In advance, I apologize for the low quality pictures, they do not do justice to the beauty of this bird. Visit this blog to learn more about the darter and see some excellent pictures.
There was this bug Green Tree ant (not green tea! 🙂 ) or a weaver ant on my mother’s bag. We saw them a lot around Cambodia, but sadly not one of their beautiful, intricate nests that they weave with their larval silk.
In Angkor Wat, there were so many butterflies around, I can’t even begin to tell you how I excited and restless I was. But we were at the temple for only one day and there was a guide showing us as much as he could in that time. So I don’t have as many pictures as I wish I did if I chased behind them, but I did manage to get one butterfly on camera. This is a Yamfly, from the genus Loxura, and the species may be the Loxura atymnus.
I hope you got a little glimpse of the wildlife that can be seen in Cambodia. My upcoming post, also about Cambodia- will feature an amazing creature. Stay tuned!