Manning River turtles hatched at Australian Reptile Park

Newborn: A freshly hatched Manning River turtle hatchling is one of the first to be born in the Aussie Ark insurance population. Photo: Aussie Ark
Newborn: A freshly hatched Manning River turtle hatchling is one of the first to be born in the Aussie Ark insurance population. Photo: Aussie Ark

Ten tiny turtles are providing hope to their species in the wake of catastrophic bushfires and severe drought.

The clutch of endangered Manning River turtles first began hatching on March 5 at the Australian Reptile Park, where Aussie Ark's insurance population and breeding program for the species is located.

Manning River turtles hatching. Video by Aussie Ark

The eggs were collected from the wild due to the imminent risk of predation from foxes, as well as being susceptible to being trampled by roaming cattle.

Their hatching, in part, marks the launch of the first-ever conservation breeding program for the Manning River turtle, a project supported by Global Wildlife Conservation and the Turtle Conservancy.

"Because Manning River turtles were endangered before the fires, we started planning for the conservation breeding program three years ago and happened to have the facilities ready for these emergency rescue efforts when the fires began," Aussie Ark president, Tim Faulkner said.

"As amazing as this is, I'll consider the project a major success when we're returning 200-300 juveniles back to the river system each year, but this is a truly joyful way to kick off those efforts after so much heartache."

This is a truly joyful way to kick off those efforts after so much heartache.

Tim Faulkner, president Aussie Ark

A proactive insurance program mitigates one of the major threats to Australia's turtles; introduced feral foxes and cats that feast extensively on laying females and turtle eggs.

Unfortunately, turtles that do hatch successfully are then subject to habitat destruction and disease, often the result of cattle faeces that end up the water in which they live, especially during drier times.

The Aussie Ark team will be monitoring the baby turtles closely and will eventually move them into a nursery of specialised tanks, where they will live for about four months before being moved to smaller ponds.

In the months after, Aussie Ark will decide how many turtles will stay in the conservation breeding program, and how many will be released back into the wild-in the exact place the nest was found. Those that are returned to the wild will be fit with radio transmitters to help the team track and monitor the species.

Aussie Ark collecting the eggs found in the wild on the Manning River. The nest was at risk of predation and flooding. Photo courtesy of Aussie Ark

Aussie Ark collecting the eggs found in the wild on the Manning River. The nest was at risk of predation and flooding. Photo courtesy of Aussie Ark

These new additions are just the start for conservation organisation Aussie Ark. Twenty more eggs are due to hatch at the facility in early April, and the team are scheduled to collect further adult specimens in the coming weeks and months.

Turtles play a vital role in the maintenance of Australia's waterways and their survival is vital. Aussie Ark has committed to saving the Manning River turtle from extinction, and even more recently have committed to saving another two species of turtles under threat.