Conservation efforts have failed dramatically as this emblematic species comes closer to extinction.

Four years ago, there were an estimated 200 southern river terrapins (Batagur affinis edwardmolli), or Royal Cambodian Turtles in the wild. Now, it seems the population has dwindled down by 95%, as just 10 remain in the wild. The news comes just 16 years after the species was thought to be lost and was rediscovered.

As is the case with other Asian turtles, river terrapins are in danger because of the thriving animal trade in the region. The rarer a species is, the more it values on the black market – either on the menu or for traditional medicine. Specifically, the eggs of these turtles were considered a delicacy. While conservationists did manage to reduce the number of poached eggs, turtle numbers still went down fast because their habitats weren’t protected – and still aren’t.

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“We believe this is caused by increased sand dredging, wood transportation along the nesting habitat, and illegal clearance of flooded forest disturbing the females during the breeding season”, said In Hul, the project coordinator.

Royal Cambodian Turtles (Batagur affinis) from a gazetted conservation site at Kuala Berang, Terengganu, Malaysia.

“This is very worrying and if it continues it will be potentially putting the species at high risk of extinction,” he said, though I feel that having 10 remaining turtles is much more than a “high risk of extinction”.

The main problem is sand dredging in the turtles’ only habitat, the Sre Ambel River System, and the illegal logging in the nearby forests. These activities destroy the potential for nesting and virtually condemning the turtles in the wild.

Something is also killing the turtles themselves, as less than a year ago 21 captive-raised turtles were released into the wild. Not a single one of those terrapins was found now.

But not all is lost for the species. These turtles seem to be doing quite well in captivity, with at least 382 hatchlings being born in these conditions. The plan was to grow them in captivity until they are old enough to be released into the wild, but right now, that doesn’t seem like a good idea as their chances of survival would be very slim. It is unclear what will be done with these turtles.