Nineteen baby Siamese crocodiles are being let loose in the wetlands of Laos, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) announced. The effort gives a boost to the wild population of the critically endangered species, which is thought to be less than 250. The rare reptiles' eggs had been incubated at the Laos Zoo after being recovered during wildlife surveys in the wetlands of Savannakhet Province.
The baby crocs are being let go near the same spot they were found, but they will stay in a "soft release" pen for several months, where they will get used to their surroundings and receive supplementary food and protection from community members. Rising water levels at the start of the rainy season will eventually let the crocodiles swim away on their own, but they will be occasionally monitored by conservationists.
Siamese crocodiles grow up to 10 feet (3 meters) in length, but right now, these toothy creatures measure only about 27 inches (70 cm). Classified as Critically Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the Siamese crocodile population has been cut down by overhunting and habitat loss across much of its former range through Southeast Asia and parts of Indonesia.
The release effort was organized by the WCS's Laos branch as part of a community-based program to recover the local Siamese crocodile population and restore the associated wetlands, with a focus on incentives that improve local livelihoods.
"We are extremely pleased with the success of this collaborative program and believe it is an important step in contributing to the conservation of the species by involving local communities in long term wetland management," Alex McWilliam, a WCS conservation biologist, said. "The head starting component of this integrated WCS program represents a significant contribution to the conservation of this magnificent animal in the wild."