All may not be lost for the Manning River helmeted turtle (or Purvis’ turtle), should the species be declared endangered, thanks to Marc Dorse of Toowoomba in Queensland.
In September 2016, the NSW Scientific Committee established by the Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995 published a preliminary determination to list the Purvis Turtle as an endangered species. The turtle has yet to be declared endangered as the declaration awaits final determination.
Marc is a herpetologist with his own enterprise, Deadly Australians, that visits schools with a collection of his animals to teach children and adults about various reptiles.
He also has owned two pairs of Purvis’ turtles for more than 20 years, and over the last two years they have started breeding.
Marc was handed the turtles when they were babies by the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service. The Parks service had told him they were saw shelled turtles.
He does not know how the service came to have the turtles in their possession, but suggests they may have been seized from somebody who was keeping them illegally. The turtles are considered by turtle fanciers to be one of the most beautiful turtles in Australia, and as they are extremely rare, are highly sought after.
Of the two pairs of breeding turtles, one pair, Eleanor and her mate, are ‘friendlier’ with each other than the other pair, Phillipa and her mate.
Eleanor laid 13 eggs on January 2, 2017. Five of the eggs hatched after 45 days, with two sadly dying within an hour of hatching. Marc says three live hatchlings out of a clutch of 13 eggs is not a bad result. “In the wild, you’re lucky to get one per cent surviving,” he says.
Eleanor and Phillipa both bred in the summer of 2014/15 however Phillipa did not breed in the 2016/17 season.
Although other turtle keepers claim keeping and breeding the Purvis turtle in captivity is difficult, breeding the turtles isn’t that hard, according to Marc.
“If I really do want them to breed, I give them lots and lots of prawns to eat,” Marc says. “Probably the equivalent in humans would be a bottle of Moët… it gets things happening! If they have plenty of food, lots of protein, and you make sure the female’s got plenty of weight on, then they’ll breed.”
Marc does not sell his Purvis’ turtle hatchlings on. He keeps them himself.
“I think we will eventually turn the turtle around. The only thing is if I breed lots of these, you can’t really send them to the wild. But I’d be very happy, once I’ve bred a few of them, to pass them on to various zoos around the place to make people publicly more aware,” Marc initially said.
However, John Cann, author of the book Australian Freshwater Turtles, this week told Marc that if the turtle was declared endangered, Marc could possibly get permission to release them into the wild. If this were to happen, Marc would not release them until they reached around 12 centimetres in size, meaning about four years of age, so they are not in danger of being eaten by eels.
John Cann and Richard Wells, who found and named the turtle, are two of the most respected people in Australia’s turtle world. Both men believe the Purvis’ turtle should be declared critically endangered.
“Richard Wells remarked to me that they before the ‘demise’, so to speak, of the Bellinger River turtle he believed that Purvis was a far rarer turtle than the Bellinger River turtle,” Marc says. “He could dive in the Bellinger and see the Bellinger River turtles in fairly good numbers. But he says he was working really hard to find the Purvis,” Marc says.
To promote awareness of our extremely rare Manning River turtle, Marc is hoping to visit the Manning Valley around September this year, to show the turtles to school children, should the schools show interest. Visit www.deadlyaustralians.com.au.