Taronga Zoo is helping to save a species by raising 19 of the critically endangered Bellinger River Snapping Turtles.
The species was decimated by a virus that killed off a large number of the turtles in 2015.
Taronga Zoo is helping to save a species by raising 19 of the critically endangered Bellinger River Snapping Turtles. The species was decimated by a virus that killed off a large number of the turtles in 2015. Paul Fahy

Holding the future of a species' survival

THEY may look like any ordinary freshwater turtles, but these hatchlings are among the last of their kind.

These two are part of the batch of 21 tiny turtles hatched at Taronga Zoo under the conservation effort by the NSW Government to save the critically endangered Bellinger River Snapping Turtle species.

"There could be as few as 200 Bellinger River Snapping Turtles remaining in the wild, so these hatchlings have a vital role to play in rebuilding this population," Environment Minister Gabrielle Upton said.

Taronga Zoo established the breeding program after a newly discovered disease wiped out up to 90% of the local population of Bellinger River Snapping Turtles near Bellingen in 2015.

A Government emergency response team was formed to investigate and coordinate the rescue of a group of healthy turtles to establish an insurance population.

Taronga Keeper Adam Skidmore said he was surprised at how quickly the turtles had settled into their new home, with four of the five females producing eggs this breeding season.

"We weren't really expecting any hatchlings this year, so it was an amazing result to get four clutches of eggs. The team was very excited to see the first hatchlings push their way out of the eggs," Mr Skidmore said.

Weighing 4-5 grams at birth, the hatchlings have begun eating and swimming and are being closely monitored by keepers in a special quarantine facility at Taronga.

The long-term aim of the breeding program is to raise and release hatchlings back into Bellinger River. Meanwhile, Australian Registry of Wildlife Health researchers continue to investigate the cause of the disease and monitor the remaining turtles and other wildlife in the Bellinger River catchment system.



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