Conservationists are “trembling with excitement” as the rare turtle lays its eggs

A female member of an endangered turtle species has laid eggs for the first time since being rescued, much to the delight of conservationists.

The lucky Manning River turtle is part of a captive breeding program in Australia that began in 2019 in hopes of saving the dwindling species from extinction. Today, conservationists at the animal conservation organization Aussie Ark and the Australian Reptile Park in New South Wales’ Central Coast region are delighted that the program’s first eggs have been laid, telling ABC Mid North Coast radio station that they are “trembling to excitement.”

“To see where they come from now…laying eggs that eventually become little turtles that go back into the wild, it’s an amazing feeling,” Hayley Shute, a conservation manager at Aussie Ark, told the station .

A stock image shows a captive turtle in the Australian Manning River. Australian conservationists are trying to save the dwindling species from extinction.

The turtles were saved during the Australian summer of 2019-2020, where severe forest fires threaten thousands of species of native animals. Manning River turtles live in pools in the river, which are shrinking rapidly due to the fire, and this led to their rescue on the Aussie Ark, along with some wild eggs.

Manning River turtles, also known as Manning River snapping turtles or Manning River saw-shelled turtles, are endemic to the Manning River in New South Wales. The species is listed as Data Deficient on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species, but they are considered endangered in Australia, according to the 1999 Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. Their population is declining due to high levels of poaching, mostly by wolves and pigs.

Several turtles have been released back into the wild by the Aussie Ark since their rescue, but this marks the first time conservationists in the program have seen a turtle laying eggs.

“There’s a lot of work and skill that goes into this moment: specialized food, water monitoring and building preferred nesting sites,” Shute said. “We have to wait for signs of behavior and then introduce the female to the male.”

EGG-STRA-ORDINARY MILESTONE ALERT! The critically endangered Manning River Turtles are laying their FIRST eggs! Proudly leading the largest…

After conservationists tried to breed the turtles, a month later four of the females were found to be gravid, or pregnant with eggs.

“We’ve been checking on our girls day and night…and we’re nervously waiting for her to go to bed,” Shute said. “Last week, the high humidity, rain and heat [have] the time is perfect for a turtle to lay its eggs…. She lays her eggs like clockwork.”

One morning, conservationists discovered that one of the females had laid 12 eggs in the sand in their nest box. Shute said it was a strange feeling when he checked the sand in the nest box and discovered dozens of eggs.

“There was a small mound that we had never seen before…. We went in and carefully started pushing the sand,” he said. “Then I saw the top of an egg white and you could literally knock me over, I was so excited.”

Now, the wait begins. The eggs are placed in an incubator, which will keep them at optimal temperature and humidity until they hatch within two months. After caring for the hatchlings for about a year, conservationists plan to release the turtles back into the wild.

“I can’t wait for the day I take one of these babies back into the wild and release them,” Shute said. “This is full circle conservation. It doesn’t get any better than this.”

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