Spring brings hope to Bellingen's turtles

Staff from the Office of Environment and Heritage, National Parks and Wildlife Service, Department of Primary Industries and the Taronga Zoo Conservation Society.
Staff from the Office of Environment and Heritage, National Parks and Wildlife Service, Department of Primary Industries and the Taronga Zoo Conservation Society.

It’s early days, but scientists are hopeful 20 juveniles collected during last week’s field surveys are Bellinger River snapping turtles.

Experts said the animals appeared healthy, however their disease status remains unknown and samples have been taken to test for the presence of the virus, identified as the cause of death for the species.

In addition, genetic analysis is required to confirm that they are snapping turtles as they occurred in an area of known hybridisation with the introduced Murray River turtle. 

The results of this analysis is not expected to be available until early next year.

Staff from the Office of Environment and Heritage, National Parks and Wildlife Service, Department of Primary Industries and the Taronga Zoo Conservation Society, along with local volunteers, undertook the surveys. 

They kayaked and dived in sections of the Bellinger River to look for snapping turtles after a mass mortality event occurred earlier this year.

Though the news is welcome for locals and conservationists alike, in relative terms the number of snapping turtles is extremely low and the population is unlikely to be viable without intervention.

Scientists have said captive breeding is likely to be critical for the species’ recovery.

During several days, the team of specialists also took samples from a range of other animals including fish, frogs and reptiles. These will also be analysed for presence of the virus.

In the meantime, an Office of Environment and Heritage spokesperson said it was important that river hygiene precautions are maintained and this will continue to be monitored.