“During the breeding season we check the nests daily,” Mr Skidmore said. “We then remove the eggs, weigh and measure them and place them in our incubator. We then check on them daily and wait for them to hatch, which can take up to 70 days.”
The recovery project was part of the state government’s Saving Our Species program, using $300,000 of a $100 million fund to help regenerate the population of this rare turtle.
“We have so far released 20 snapping turtles back into their natural environment and we are delighted to say their survival rate has been extremely high,” said Gerry McGilvray, project co-ordinator of the Bellinger River snapping turtle Saving Our Species program.
“They appear to be in good health, and adapting well to the natural habitat.”
Before the virus, there were between 3000 and 6000 turtles in the river.
“What we’re doing at the moment is a trial release program, which we’ve done two of in the last two years. A total of 20 animals have been released,” Ms McGilvray said.
“We’re working towards having a larger number released each year going forward.”
She said the high rate of survival had been positive, but that it would be a “long-term project” to get numbers back to where they were before 2015.
“We’ve modelled that we hope to release a minimum of 30 per year back to the river for as long as needed,” she said.
Radio trackers are attached to the animals after they’re released and, on a monthly basis in the warmer months, they are recaptured to monitor their health.
Ongoing studies into the virus are being undertaken by the Department of Primary Industries.
“We’re hoping those studies will reveal what made the animals susceptible to the virus, and to be able to manage it in the future,” Ms McGilvray said.
A low number of animals tested positive in the river for the same virus, but there’s been no recorded deaths since that event in 2015.
Matt Bungard is a journalist at The Sydney Morning Herald.