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Page last updated at 10:10 GMT, Friday, 2 July 2010 11:10 UK
A Fauna & Flora project hopes to save a rare crocodile
Night-time footage of a Siamese crocodile mother
Night-time footage of a Siamese crocodile mother guarding her nest in Cambodia

A very rare species has had a boost in numbers thanks to a Cambridgeshire-based charity.

The Siamese crocodile was believed to be extinct, but a joint project between Fauna & Flora International and the Cambodian government proved otherwise.

"This was a pretty significant discovery," said Adam Starr from FFI. Only 250 crocodiles have been found.

He is now leading a project in Cambodia to boost numbers and as a result 13 hatchlings have been born this year.

Baby boom

Most of the rediscovered Siamese crocodile population is found in southern Cambodia, with a handful of the species in Laos, Vietnam and Thailand. The species used to live in Malaysia, Indonesia and Java.

Siamese crocodile hatchlings
FFI hopes these Siamese crocodile hatchlings will survive and thrive

Fauna & Flora International works in partnership with the Cambodian crocodile conservation programme. They know of three sites were the crocodiles are actively breeding and the project workers keep an eye out for nests.

"This year we were actually very lucky," Adam Starr, the project manager for FFI's conservation programme in Cambodia, explained. "We conducted surveys in April and we were able to find one nest and we were successfully able to take out 15 eggs that were fertilised. We artificially incubated them and managed to hatch 10 of those 15 eggs.

We left some other eggs behind in the wild nest, and to our surprise three more babies came out of there."

Conservation workers are delighted with this as it is extremely difficult to find the nests and it is exceptional for one nest to produce 13 hatchlings.

Habitat loss

Less than a century ago the species was common across the wetlands and waterways of Southeast Asia. Hunting and habitat loss means Siamese crocodiles only have access to one per cent of their previous range.

A survey by FFI and the Cambodian government in 2000 revealed the animals were not, as previously believed, extinct in the country. However this, and subsequent surveys, appears to confirm that fewer than 250 Siamese crocodile adults are left in the wild.

This matters because the crocodiles are essential for maintaining a healthy wetland habitat in Southeast Asia. They control predatory fishes and, by digging out channels, they ensure a constant water supply even through the dry season.

Most of the surviving Siamese crocodile population inhabits Cambodia's remote Cardamom Mountains.

Slow breeders

In 2004, FFI set up the first community Siamese crocodile reserve in Cambodia. Local people are crucial to this.

They are trained to protect crocodiles from poachers and support them to improve the management of their natural resources and farm lands.

FFI crocodile handler measuring hatchling
FFI's crocodile team takes the hatchlings' measurements

"The 10 we successfully hatched in artificial nests are now in a pen and are being cared for by a local community," said Adam Starr. "So the community members themselves are taking a large part in making sure these animals will survive."

Unlike their cousins in Australia, they have no interest in nibbling on a human. Adam Starr even likens them to something a lot more familiar: "This particular species is not as aggressive as, say, a salt water crocodile. They're a little bit more like pussy-cats, they are quite timid when people get near."

They prefer smaller prey, especially snakes, fish and rats.

Although they are protected by law, the wild crocodiles are under pressure from the illegal collection of eggs and live animals, to be sold to the thriving crocodile farms which have sprung up in Cambodia.

The Cambodian government offers strong support to the projects and there are hopes the Siamese crocodile population will gradually increase.

However, even with 2010's 13 hatchlings, it will take a long time to see a substantial boost in numbers because each Siamese crocodile takes at least 15 years to reach sexual maturity.

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