World's first capture of Manning River turtles for insurance population

Aussie Ark president Tim Faulkner and Dan Rumsey from the Australian Reptile Park have collected the first wild Manning River turtles for their insurance population. Photo courtesy Aussie Ark
Aussie Ark president Tim Faulkner and Dan Rumsey from the Australian Reptile Park have collected the first wild Manning River turtles for their insurance population. Photo courtesy Aussie Ark

One endangered animal that is suffering greatly and moving closer to extinction because of drought and bushfires is the Manning River helmeted turtle.

Aussie Ark president Tim Faulkner, alongside NSW government representatives, took to the field a few days before Christmas to survey populations of the endangered Manning River turtle.

The survey quickly turned into an emergency intervention when, due to drought and wildfire, dead animals were located, and many more needing to be rescued from a certain death.

Tim Faulkner and Dan Rumsey collect Manning River turtles for insurance population

More than 30 Manning River turtles were rescued and relocated with three being collected to begin a world first insurance population that will assist save the species from extinction.

The first male, female and juvenile turtles were relocated to the state-of-the-art facility at partnering organisation, the Australian Reptile Park where they have undergone initial health checks and are now settling into their new home.

In 2018 Aussie Ark, in collaboration with the NSW government and the Australian Reptile Park, committed to saving the Manning River turtle from extinction, after their status was upgraded in 2017 to endangered.

Tim Faulkner and Dan Rumsey searching for Manning River turtles in a muddy pool in the Barnard River. Photo courtesy Aussie Ark

Tim Faulkner and Dan Rumsey searching for Manning River turtles in a muddy pool in the Barnard River. Photo courtesy Aussie Ark

Being more than 55 million years old this amazing critter is perhaps the oldest turtle in Australia, existing soley in the Manning River catchment in NSW.

"Manning River turtles are vital in maintaining river systems within the Barrington Tops region. Without them aquatic ecosystems tumble," Tim Faulkner said.

"We took notice two years ago that this species needed help, and with community support built a specialised facility to stop the extinction of this species. Now catastrophic events have nearly decimated their remaining populations. This insurance population is a promise for the future and it is wonderful that we were ready to step in and help."

Dead Manning River turtle on the dried up Barnard River. Photo courtesy Aussie Ark

Dead Manning River turtle on the dried up Barnard River. Photo courtesy Aussie Ark

Since September 2019 the east coast of Australia has been ravaged by fire and more than 10 million hectares of land has been decimated, leaving blackened and destroyed ecosystems in its wake. This has had catastrophic effects for Manning River turtle habitat.

These bushfires, coupled with the worst drought in history, have meant that rivers have stopped flowing and Manning River turtles are now restricted only to what remains of the deepest holes in the area.

Freshwater turtles are natures vacuums; they are critical to our freshwater ecosystems, cleaning up river systems, keeping aquatic vegetation in balance, and maintaining the stunning waterways Australia is known for.

The first wild juvenile Manning River helmeted turtle to join Aussie Ark's insurance population. Photo courtesy Aussie Ark

The first wild juvenile Manning River helmeted turtle to join Aussie Ark's insurance population. Photo courtesy Aussie Ark

"This is what we worked for. This is just the first step in the right direction for this unique, Australian turtle. We could not have done it without our partners and supporters," Tim Faulkner said.

The Manning River turtle facility at the Australian Reptile Park would not have been built without the support of The Turtle Conservancy, Steber International, The Happy Wombat, Aus Eco Solutions, Manning River Steel and each individual who donated to the cause.