It’s a late autumn day, warm and windy, the she oaks are whispering on the banks of the river, and Tim Faulkner, clad in a wetsuit, is snorkelling, looking for the Manning River turtle.
It is a place the wildlife conservationist has seen them many times before, but we can’t share its location. The turtle is so rare and so sought after that poaching is a problem.
It’s just one of the threats facing the endangered species. Predation by foxes and feral pigs is their largest threat, ravaging their nests so much so the reptiles have been predated by up to 90 per cent.
Other threats include habitat degradation and, potentially, disease, similar to that which wiped out the population of the Bellinger River turtle.
Tim is, in his own words, “a turtle nut”, as you’d expect the manager from the Australian Reptile Park (ARP) to be, and he is incredibly passionate about our little turtle. So much so that he is planning to start an insurance population captive breeding program, similar to that of the Taronga Zoo/Symbio Wildlife Park partnership for the Bellinger River turtle.
“With the breeding season fast approaching a sanctuary needs to be developed and an adult insurance population formed as a safeguard against any further threats to these beautiful little turtles,” Tim says.
But first, he needs a green light from the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH).
The turtle was first declared an endangered species in April 2017. Since then, OEH has been working under the Save Our Species program to gather data on the Manning River Turtle in the hopes of establishing a conservation project.
It’s worth noting that we aren’t realistically the wild solution. What we are experts at is captive management. In terms of insurance population, bolstering wild populations, continued harvestable stock for release to the wild - that’s us.Tim Faulkner
Earlier this year Tim sent a proposal to OEH. The proposal is for a partnership between the ARP and OEH to achieve the following:
- Collection of eggs from multiple nests with an objective of incubating, raising until juveniles are at a size that is not predated and released back to their original collection point.
- Collection of wild specimens for the establishment of a long term robust insurance population of the turtle, with an initial collection of a small breeding colony in late 2018.
- Ongoing investigation around the Manning River and its catchments to monitor population numbers, protection of nesting sites and land management activities.
The ARP plans to construct a purpose-built captive turtle facility, off exhibit at the Somersby Reptile Park site. The facility will be built following the successful models of captive turtle facilities at Symbio and Taronga. The development will be completely enclosed to ensure specimens are secure from predation and unauthorised entry.
Tim is keen to get support and help from the Manning community in his work to save the turtle. He has reached out to the Manning River Turtle Conservation Group to enlist their help in the project.
“We are excited to talk to the community, we look forward to that, but at this point in time realistically we’re waiting for a green light from OEH to be able to engage,” he says.
“We look forward to that partnership.
“We’ve very prepared. It’s a species that sits very nicely under our umbrella; we are a reptile park. And this is our region. The headwaters are here – we love that!”
By ‘here’ he means at the Barrington Tops, where we are talking to Tim at Devil Ark and Aussie Ark – a place where it is way too cold in the winter months to keep turtles.
“Essentially Aussie Ark (a non-profit organisation) will pay for the facility, but it will off display at the reptile park – there is no commercial interest for us. ARP will pay for staff, food, water, wages, so that’s why it will be a joint partnership,” Tim explains.
He says the time for action is right now.
“If we wait long enough, it will be three years down the track and we’ll be ‘oh, we didn’t get any this trip’, they’ll be all gone.
“The facilities required to house and breed these animals hadn’t been budgeted for, but the urgency of the situation gives us no option but to proceed,” Tim said.
A national crowd funding campaign will be launched in the Manning Valley in late August to assist with the necessary funds.