Conservationists have found 20 nests of the critically endangered Asian Giant Softshell Turtle, containing a total of 663 eggs, in Mekong River sandbars in Kratie province, the Wildlife Conservation Society announced on Wednesday.

The discoveries will help sustain a species that faces a high risk of extinction due to the iIlegal collection of eggs, and the capture of adult turtles for consumption and sale, WCS said in a news release. In fact, another 15 nests were found bereft of eggs, WCS said.

The discoveries were made from December to last week. Since the start of the month, 132 turtles have hatched from the nests, which are guarded by former egg hunters that WCS, in partnership with the Fisheries Administration, hired to find and protect, rather than find and poach, the turtle nests.

Turtle hatchlings that were discovered this month in the sandbars of the Mekong River in Kratie. Photo supplied

Believed to be extinct in Cambodia until they were re-discovered in 2007 along the Mekong River in Kratie and Stung Treng provinces, the Asian Giant Softshell Turtle continues to face pressures from the illicit wildlife trade.

“There is no population estimation for the Asian Giant Softshell Turtle, but [the] Mekong stretch between Kratie and Stung Province is the only known habitat in Cambodia,” WCS spokesperson Eng Mengey said.