Seventeen Critically Endangered juvenile Siamese crocodiles were released this week into into a protected wetland in Laos, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) announced today. The release is part of a program to assist the recovery of the local Siamese crocodile population and restoration of associated wetlands, linked by socio-economic incentives that improve local livelihoods.
“The one-to-two-year-old crocodiles, which range between 50-100 cm (20-39 inches) in length, were raised in facilities managed by local communities working with WCS to protect the endangered reptiles and their habitat,” the New York-based conservation charity said in a news statement.
The juvenile crocodiles were released into the Xe Champhone wetland, Than Soum village, Savannakhet Province, one of two RAMSAR wetland sites in the country. Laos became a signatory to the RAMSAR Convention on Wetlands in 2010.
The release of the crocodiles is part of the Community-based Crocodile Recovery and Livelihood Improvement Project, designed and implemented by WCS’s Lao PDR Program. “The program has three key objectives,” WCS explained in its statement today, “contributing to local livelihoods by improving coordination of water resource use and zoning of lands used in local agriculture; conserving and restoring crocodile wetland habitat important for local livelihoods, crocodiles, and other species; and replenishing the crocodile population in the wetland complex and surveying and monitoring the current population.”
The program has worked with nine villages – each village has a “Village Crocodile Conservation Group” (VCCG) to coordinate implementation of program activities in the Xe Champone wetland complex and surrounding areas.
A ceremony observing cultural traditions was held prior to the release and involved participants from local communities, government and WCS staff. “Local communities have traditional beliefs about Siamese crocodiles, and events on the day included welcoming the crocodiles to the village area and wishing both them and community residents good luck in the future,” WCS said.
It is estimated that there may be fewer than 1,000 Siamese crocodiles remaining in the wild, with a significant proportion of this population located in Lao PDR. Classified as Critically Endangered (at very high risk of becoming extinct in the wild) by the IUCN, the Siamese crocodile grows up to 10 feet in length. The species has been eliminated from much of its former range through Southeast Asia and parts of Indonesia by overhunting and habitat degradation and loss.
The Siamese crocodile is named Freshwater Species of the Week for its critical role in the fragile Xe Champhone and other wetlands in Southeast Asia. Saving the species from the brink of extinction in the wild and restoring its habitat will help ensure a healthy environment and create socio-economic opportunities for the people who depend on the wetlands.