KEY POINTS

  • Siamese crocodiles were once thought to be extinct until they were rediscovered in 2000
  • 10 Siamese crocodile hatchlings were discovered in the wild, the largest number on record
  • The discovery shows that the species is successfully breeding in the wild
  • Siamese crocodiles are still critically endangered

Siamese crocodile hatchlings were spotted in the wild in Cambodia, signaling the success of conservation efforts for the species. It is so far the largest number of wild hatchlings recorded by conservationists in Cambodia. 

Saving Siamese Crocodiles

Siamese crocodiles were once widespread throughout Southeast Asia but they were long presumed to be extinct in the wild until early 2000 when Fauna & Flora International-led (FFI) expeditions discovered several populations of the species in Cambodia’s remote Cardamom Mountains. Since then, over 150 have been recorded at 18 separate sites.

After the rediscovery, the Cambodian government, as well as FFI, made massive efforts to monitor and protect the species and, by 2012, a successful breeding program led to the release of 111 captive-bred Siamese crocodiles into sanctuaries.

Wild Hatchlings Discovered

In a press release, FFI announced that 10 Siamese crocodile hatchlings were spotted in the wild in late January. It is the largest number of hatchlings ever spotted by conservationists in Cambodia and, until the hatchlings were discovered, there was not much evidence to show that the crocodiles in the wild were actually successfully breeding.

In fact, the sighting was only the second time that Siamese crocodile hatchlings have been spotted in the wild.

“For a species that for a long time was believed to be extinct in the wild to be breeding and producing hatchlings is extremely exciting,” FFI Flagship Species Manager Pablo Sinovas said. “Reproduction of a species in the wild is a key measure of success in terms of population recovery and long-term viability. It shows our conservation efforts are working.”

Pure Siamese Crocodiles

Last month, the first DNA test of Siamese crocodiles in Cambodia was also conducted in collaboration with the Royal University of Phnom Penh and the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland. The test was conducted to preserve the species by making sure that the Siamese crocodiles are actually pure-bred rather than Siamese-saltwater crocodile hybrids.

"If hybrids get into the wild it could contribute to the dilution of the genetic makeup of this species which has been around for millions of years,” Sinovas said.

Critically Endangered

Given all the good news, Siamese crocodiles are still the most threatened and least well-known crocodiles in the world. The species has disappeared from 99 percent of its previous range and is considered critically endangered.

So far, it is estimated that there are only about 250 adult Siamese crocodiles in the wild, making them one of the world's rarest reptiles.

Although communities in Cambodia have been defending the crocodiles and their habitat against poachers, collectors and illegal loggers, an influx of people claiming land in recent years has been adding to the pressure in the Siamese crocodiles’ habitats.

Siamese Crocodile Siamese crocodiles were thought to be extinct until they were rediscovered. Image: a Siamese crocodile at a facility in Thailand. Photo: Wikimedia Commons