Bellinger River Snapping Turtle.
Bellinger River Snapping Turtle. Matthew Deans

Virus breakthrough in snapping turtles mystery

DEPARTMENT of Primary Industry scientists have made a significant breakthrough and detected a new virus which has affected the Bellinger River Snapping Turtles.

The virus has been a mystery illness that earlier in the year killed scores of the rare turtle in the region.

The discovery brings the scientist one step closer to identifying the cause of the virus.

Dr Peter Kirkland, head of the DPI's specialist Veterinary Virology section, said the virus was discovered after other potential causes had been eliminated.

"Initial testing by a number of Australian laboratories for a wide range of infections and toxic agents was undertaken with no confirmed diagnosis, however, based on water sampling, contamination from pesticides or hydrocarbons was able to be ruled out early on," Dr Kirkland said.

"Scientists worked methodically to hone in on the pathogen that was causing such devastating symptoms and the fact that all turtles presented with the same clinical and pathological signs suggested a single causative agent was responsible.

"All affected turtles died despite extensive attempts to treat and save them.

"There is no evidence that this virus affects other animals or people. Other turtle species in this river system appear healthy."

This finding will now hopefully allow other knowledge to be gained which will help save the species in the future.

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