Aussie Ark and Australian Reptile Park start work on endangered Manning River turtle breeding facilities

First of her kind: "Manny" is the first Manning River turtle to come into the protection of Aussie Ark for the insurance population. Photo: courtesy of Aussie Ark
First of her kind: "Manny" is the first Manning River turtle to come into the protection of Aussie Ark for the insurance population. Photo: courtesy of Aussie Ark

Aussie Ark’s month-long crowdfunding campaign to raise funds to build facilities for an insurance population of the endangered Manning River turtle has ended successfully.

The campaign, which was launched in Wingham on August 21, 2018, reached its goal of $110,000 with the total money raised coming to $110,689. The campaign was run on Australian site pozible.com, with the model used meaning if the campaign did not reach its goal, Aussie Ark would receive no money.

“We did reach the amount of $110,000 right there in the final minutes. Incredible support, and especially from up around the local region of the turtle, and that’s always a really lovely thing to know that the entire community is behind it,” Aussie Ark and Australian Reptile Park general manager, Tim Faulkner says.

Four companies elected to pay for the most expensive option of becoming project partners at a cost of $8000 each – local companies Manning River Steel and Aus Eco Solutions from Wingham, and two Newcastle businesses, Kleinfelder and The Happy Wombat restaurant and bar.

Taree company Steber International donated $6000 and Saxby’s Soft Drinks gave $2000.

Other big donors were Australian Reptile Park, Manning River Oyster Farmer’s Association and Kellyville Pets, and some private individuals.

We’re very grateful for the local community’s support and involvement. It was just nice that everyone took ownership of their turtle.

Chris Williams

“There were a couple of private donors that have been friends with Aussie Ark in the past, just individuals that like what we do and have given money,” campaign manager Chris Williams says.

One of the private donors donated $5000 to take ownership of Peter Schouten AM’s original artwork of the Manning River turtle, and another paid more than $1000 for naming rights of a turtle pond. 

Donations came from far and wide, including one donation from Germany. 

Two schools took it upon themselves to raise money for the cause and donate to the campaign – Morpeth Public School in the Hunter Valley, and the Victoria Avenue Public School P&F in Concord West, Sydney.

“We’re very grateful for the local community’s support and involvement. It was just nice that everyone took ownership of their turtle,” Chris said.

Once the campaign finished, work started immediately on the off-exhibit facilities at the Australian Reptile Park on the Central Coast.

“The next steps for us, and I’m proud to say that ambitiously we have already started with site preparation and a slab going down, and realistically we’ll have a very quick turn around,” Tim says.

“It’s quite a simple process. Because it’s not an on-display facility with aesthetic concerns – it’s a turtle facility, a conservation breeding facility so everything caters for the turtle’s needs – it’s a more simplistic build and a quicker turn around.”

Tim and his team have met with stakeholders including the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage, turtle ecologists, and foremost turtle expert in Australia John Cann, and Tim says, “it’s all systems go”.

“We’re looking at surveying and collecting turtles as close as November this year. And the importance of that is because we know there is mass decline, and realistically the reason for the urgency is because we want to get the best genetic sample representative of the species as possible,” Tim says.

“Stage two is what’s called a  population habitat viability assessment. And this is done by an external group called the Conservation Breeding Specialist Group who work for the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

“What a PHVA does is it brings together all stakeholders - locals, landholders, councils, state, OEH, all your licensing bodies, your academics – and it looks at everything from your water quality, to your nesting sites, through to captive components.

“Then our commitment will be to not just establishing an insurance population, but utilising all tools to be able to help the species in the wild too,” Tim says.