Wildlife Queensland Launches Campaign to Save Mary River Turtle Hatchlings
March 17, 2014
Overzealous collecting of Australia's Mary River turtle (Elusor macrurus) in the early 1960s to 1970s led to it being classified by the Australian government as endangered in 1992, but Wildlife Queensland wants to change that with a campaign that will hopefully save the next generation from extinction. The unchecked collection of the eggs and hatchlings nearly eliminated an entire generation of turtles.
The conservation organization is hoping to raise $30,000 that will be used to protect 75 turtle nests on the Mary River this nesting season. The organization estimates that around 1,000 hatchlings will be returned to the river if the nests are protected. The protection of each nest is estimated to cost about $400 each. This includes identifying all nest sites, placing nest guards on the sites, installing electric fencing and continuous monitoring so in the event of flooding, the eggs can be moved out of harm's way.
According to Wildlife Queensland, between 1962 and 1974, approximately 15,000 eggs were collected each year, mostly by one man who sold them to pet shops. At the time, they were sold under the name common saw-shelled turtle, or "penny turtle." What further exacerbated the plight of the turtles was the fact that they do not reach breeding age until they are about 25 years of age. Later, biologists determined that the species was not a common turtle, but rather was a turtle that could only be found in the Mary River, hence the name. The Mary River turtle was described as a new species in 1994 within an entirely new genus. No other species is closely related.
The nests are raided by foxes, dogs, and monitor lizards (known as goannas in Australia) and are also trampled by cattle, according to Wildlife Queensland. Cattle farmers are helping out with the campaign, which has so far raised more than $15,000, including $5,840 in crowdsourcing funds through Rainforest Connections. To contribute to the campaign, visit the Rainforest Connections website.
The Mary River turtle is unique in that it breathes through its "bum" enabling it to stay submerged for days in areas that have well oxygenated and flowing waters. It is also native only to the Mary River, which is on private property.