Born to farmer parents in Prey Kabas District, Takeo Province, I spent my early life surrounded by rice fields and nature. This allowed me to learn about wildlife species, especially birds and reptiles. When I was young, my older brother always caught different turtle species for our family to eat. I spent time playing with turtles at home and came to love them. Freshwater turtles and tortoises are very interesting and lovely creatures. They are the gentlest animals, and they have a unique beauty with different colors and shells. Today, I feel that I have great opportunities to contribute to turtle species conservation in Cambodia.
Since I love nature and conservation work, I chose to study Environmental Science for my bachelor’s degree at the Royal University of Phnom Penh in 2000. In my senior year, I did research on tortoises and turtles in the Cardamom Mountain Range of southwestern Cambodia. Little was known about turtles in Cambodia during that time. During my research, I experienced the amazing beauty and the importance of forests and wildlife. At the same time, I also saw many threats to forests, turtles, and tortoises. This helped me see that all of us should value nature and actively conserve these resources for the next generation. After I graduated, I worked with Conservation International to continue my research on tortoises and turtles in Cambodia, then pursued my master’s degree in Environmental Management at Massey University in New Zealand. Since returning Cambodia, I have worked as a Landscape Project Manager at the Wildlife Conservation Society from 2015 until now.
Part of my current job is to conserve the Cantor’s Giant Softshell Turtle (Pelochelys cantorii) along the Mekong River. This turtle was thought to be extinct in Cambodia before it was rediscovered along the Mekong River in 2007 under my research supervision. The Cantor’s Giant Softshell Turtle is classified as a Critically Endangered species by the IUCN Red List. In Cambodia, Sub-Decree number 123 of August 12th, 2009, also classified this turtle as an endangered species, and all forms of capturing, selling, buying, consuming, transporting, or raising are prohibited. The Cantor’s Giant Softshell Turtle is crucial for the Mekong River ecological system because it plays a very important role in the food chain of the Mekong River, which is very important to local community livelihoods. It is also an honor to the nation, as Cambodia is recognized as the only country that actively protects this species which has almost become extinct in many countries in Asia.
The part of my work that I like most is conducting research studies, which allows me to interact directly with nature. Another part of my job is working with communities, and this has taught me the challenges that local people face. We have to help educate and encourage them to participate in conservation work. I wish to share my experience widely with people of all backgrounds and communicate the value of conserving the Cantor’s giant softshell turtle, which is an important iconic species in the Mekong River ecosystem that we need to protect from disappearing in order to uplift our nation’s image. I urge people to stop harvesting, trading, and eating Cantor’s Giant Softshell Turtle because this fuels the illegal trade that could make the species go extinct in the future. In Cambodia, conservation work is not much appreciated by most people and not very often taken into consideration. This is why I work hard to promote the importance of wildlife conservation. I will continue my current conservation work to set a good example for other people, especially the younger generations, to love and protect wildlife and natural resources.
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