Sunday, 6 November 2016

Critically-endangered Bellinger River snapping turtles show signs of breeding in captivity (Australia) – via Herp Digest

By Ruby Cornish, News, ABC
Oct 26, 2016,

The critically-endangered Bellinger River snapping turtle is showing early signs of breeding in captivity, according to keepers at Sydney's Taronga Zoo.

The turtles, which are found in a single body of water on the New South Wales mid north coast, were decimated last year when a mystery virus swept through the river's population, leaving the animals blind and starving.

It is estimated that 400 turtles died in the space of a month, and in April this year the species was listed as critically endangered by the NSW Scientific Committee.

Since then, an emergency response team of scientists has been investigating the event and developing a strategy to save the population.

As part of that effort, 16 turtles were placed in quarantine at Western Sydney University then transported to Taronga Zoo to help establish an 'insurance population’.

Senior Keeper Adam Skidmore, said the captive turtles were doing very well.

"We've just brought them through the winter period. Up until now they've been quite dormant, lying around and not doing too much," he said.

"But as the weather has warmed up they're starting to get more inquisitive and more alert, and taking an interest in each other.”

He said some turtles had been observed mating, but that did not necessarily mean a successful breeding season.

"Baby turtles would be a bonus, but we don't need it to happen now.
"We're not going to be disheartened. The turtles are just getting used to being in a captive situation.”

He said the team was hoping to see a steady breeding pattern develop over the next few years.

Mr Skidmore said it was hard to predict how long it would be until the turtle population along the Bellingen River returned to healthy numbers.

"First we need to breed them up. Then there's so many variables along the river that have to be addressed by all stakeholders," he said

Last month students from Bellingen High School and Chrysalis Steiner School made alarming findings when they carried out studies on the health of the Bellinger River.

Dissolved oxygen saturation readings ranged from 40 to 60 per cent, well below the Australian healthy river standard of 85 per cent or more.

Mr Skidmore said the information was helpful for determining when and where the turtles could be released in the future.

"It's great to have people out there collecting data in the environment that these animals are found in," he said.

"We hope for ideal conditions [when we release them], but it's a tough one.
"It's largely out of our hands.”

Taronga Veterinary Pathologist Karrie Rose said there  had not been any additional cases of the virus detected since the initial outbreak.

"The population in the river seems to be doing very well," she said.

She said ultimately hopes were high for the preservation and rehabilitation of the snapping turtle.

"There are a lot of positive conversation actions underway, and I think all of the signs are very good now, she said.

She said the source of the mystery virus remained unknown.

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