updated 5/20/2005 7:53:05 PM ET 2005-05-20T23:53:05

A nest of baby Siamese crocodiles has been found in southern Laos, raising hopes that the nearly extinct species may yet survive, conservationists said Friday.

Lao and international wildlife specialists found seven hatchlings and an old crocodile nest in a small swamp in the southern Lao province of Savannakhet in March, the Mekong Wetlands Biodiversity Program announced in a statement.

Ranked as "critically endangered" by the World Conservation Union, the species is among the world's most threatened crocodiles, the statement said.

The species can still be found in central and southern Laos, but in small and fragmented groups, and in some areas it may already be extinct, it said.

"The discovery of a crocodile breeding population in Savannakhet province is internationally important for conserving this species, especially as no other breeding sites have been confirmed yet," Wildlife Conservation Society biologist Mark Bezuijen was quoted saying. "Urgent efforts and funding are needed to protect this site and propagate this species in the future."

The Lao government has made the conservation of crocodiles a high priority, and is planning to work with villagers to protect the breeding site, said Chanthone Phothitay, an official with the country's forestry department.

A similar survey for endangered crocodiles is being carried out in Vietnam, and conservation activities are ongoing in neighboring Cambodia.

The statement did not provide an estimate of the number of Siamese crocodiles in Laos. But Alvin Lopez, an ecologist for the wetlands program, said that Cambodia, with 200 adults, has the largest wild population of the species.

The Mekong Wetlands Biodiversity Program was established last year by the governments of Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam to work with U.N. and private agencies on ecology issues.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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