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    First Release of Captive-Hatched Baby Bell’s Turtles

    Bells Turtle hatchlings 006More than 100 baby Bell’s Turtles will provide a major boost to the wild population of this endangered species after being released into the Macdonald River at seven sites near Bendemeer, north of Tamworth in April 2018. The release of turtle hatchlings through the Turtles Forever program is the result of a unique partnership between a detection dog, local farmers, ecologists and researchers.

    The program has for the first time hatched Bell’s Turtle eggs in captivity and released young turtles to help secure the species in the wild.

    NSW Environmental Trust project officer Kersten Tuckey said it’s fantastic to see the hatchlings released, giving hope they will survive to breeding age.

    “Today’s success is a fitting celebration of the second year of this program and learnings are already helping plan for the next turtle breeding season,” said Ms Tuckey.

    The Turtles Forever program is a ten-year project focusing on four catchments across the Northern Tablelands and funded with $985,191 from the NSW Government’s Environmental Trust Saving Our Species Partnership grant program.

    “Achieving today’s turtle release has been a year-long collaborative effort coordinated by the Northern Tablelands Local Land Services, with local landholders, turtle ecologists, researchers from the University of New England and experts from the Office of Environment and Heritage.

    For the first-time ever wild female Bell’s Turtles were induced to lay their eggs which were then incubated at special facilities at the University of New England.

    “The hatchlings are being released into the river at the same sites where the parent turtles were found.

    “Another aspect of the program involves a Springer Spaniel detection dog called Bunya locating Bell’s Turtle nests so that eggs can be protected from foxes; a major predator.

    “Bunya was instrumental in helping to locate key nesting areas, a bonus for the program as large areas are easier to protect than individual nest sites.

    Northern Tablelands Local Land Services Bell’s Turtle project coordinator Martin Dillon said the program could not have happened without support from 12 local farmers who will receive funding support to protect and restore streamside turtle habitat.

    “These landholders also undertake year-round fox control and work with the project team to protect wild turtle nests that Bunya has found, with fox-proof mesh. We will be selecting 12 more sites next spring, and interested landholders are encouraged to contact Local Land Services.

    The Bell’s Turtle is a unique short-necked freshwater turtle and is restricted to upland streams in the Namoi, Gwydir and Border Rivers catchments.

    The Turtles Forever project will help inform the management programs that will support the long-term viability of Bell’s Turtle populations in the wild for the next century and beyond.

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