Western News: Saving the Bellingen River Turtle

In February 2015, a mystery virus that’s still
unknown wiped out a healthy population of turtles, which only exists in the Bellingen
River, so we’re looking at an extinction event occurring in real time We’ve been working on this population since
2000 and what we now know is the adults are completely decimated, there may be some juveniles
left in the population but the numbers that are left are maybe 1 or 2 per cent of what
was there originally We could see this extinction event occurring
in real time so a whole suite of agencies to us at Western Sydney University swooped
in and basically brought out the last of the adult turtles and now they’re at Taronga
Zoo in a breeding program Ideally we’d need to get into what’s called
headstarting, that is raising the young and releasing them, and turtles are conditioned
for that they live a long time and are conditioned for that so if we can get the turtles breeding
I think there’s a really good chance we can save the species What we don’t know and what we need to understand
is the causes of this. If we do get turtle breeding we don’t want
to release them if the river can’t support them. It’s almost a forensic investigation. A virus doesn’t just simply occur, turtles
have to be stressed and immune compromised, or perhaps they’re so isolated that gene
diversity is so small that they can be affected by a virus that can wipe them out all at once. We don’t know that and we need to ask these questions.

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