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Endangered Crocodile Hatchlings Found in Lao PDR

Photo credit: MWBP/WCS: M.Bezuijen

Vientiane, Lao PDR
20 May 2005 (Media Release)

A survey team’s discovery of a small breeding population of Siamese Crocodiles marks the first time that hatchlings of this species have been observed in Lao PDR.

The breeding colony, discovered in Savannakhet Province, southern Lao PDR, is a great contribution to Lao celebrations for the International Day of Biological Diversity (22 May 2005).

The Lao Crocodile Survey us a joint project of the Department of Forestry, Living Aquatic Resources Research Centre (LARReC), National Agriculture and Forestry Resource Institute (NAFRI), Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the Mekong Wetlands Biodiversity Programme (MWBP)*.

Survey results have already revealed some exciting findings. Seven crocodile hatchlings were observed in a small swamp in Savannakhet Province, March 2005. Two hatchlings were caught and measured for scientific research, and then released. An old crocodile nest was also found. From March to May 2005, 20 wetlands in central and southern Lao PDR were surveyed. The team confirmed that crocodiles occur in four sites, and local communities reported that crocodiles still occur in another six sites.

The harmless Siamese Crocodile (Crocodylus siamensis) is among the world’s most threatened crocodilians, and is ranked as “Critically Endangered” by IUCN - The World Conservation Union. It is now very rare or extinct in Southeast Asia. The current crocodile surveys are the first detailed surveys to be undertaken for the species in Lao PDR.“The Siamese Crocodile is one of four flagship species of the Mekong Wetlands Biodiversity Programme, and the Lao survey is making a great contribution to species conservation through the development of science-based approaches,” said Peter-John Meynell, UNDP Team Leader of the MWBP.

Siamese Crocodiles still occur in central and southern Lao PDR, but most populations are now small and fragmented. Some local populations may be extinct, with remaining crocodile populations under threat. “The discovery of a crocodile breeding population in Savannakhet Province is internationally important for conserving this species, especially as no other breeding sites have been confirmed yet. Urgent efforts and funding are needed to protect this site and propagate this species in the future,” said Mark Bezuijen, WCS biologist for the crocodile programme.

The surveys are also raising awareness of the species among local agencies, and forestry staff who accompany surveys are trained in crocodile survey techniques. “Crocodile conservation is a high priority of the Department of Forestry, and the government is now planning conservation activities with local communities in Savannakhet to protect the breeding site. Surveys will continue to help conserve this endangered species,” said Mr. Chanthone Phothitay, LARReC, Government of Lao PDR.

The current Lao surveys will end in June 2005. After June, new funding will be essential to develop a national conservation plan for the species. Conservation actions in the breeding site in other areas such as Savannakhet and Attapeu (where the MWBP Lao demonstration site is located) are needed. Surveys are also currently being undertaken in Viet Nam and conservation initiatives implemented in Cambodia, as part of MWBP’s flagship species conservation action planning for the Mekong region.