Homemade River Murray turtle sanctuary on frontline of fight to stop extinction
A Riverland man is on a crusade to save the River Murray’s turtles from extinction, through a fox-proof sanctuary he built to protect nests on Lake Bonney.
The Foundation for National Parks and Wildlife (FNPW) predicts River Murray turtles could be extinct by the end of the 21st century, with numbers already having dropped by 90 per cent in the past 40 years.
Foxes are largely to blame for the huge decline in numbers.
John Bannear has been breeding turtles commercially for close to six decades, but said he was equally passionate about saving wild populations.
« To think that they may become extinct is pretty terrible; we’ve sort of got a passion for turtles, » he said.
« I started breeding turtles about 60 years ago, just as a little hobby, and then it became more of a business.
« [Then] in the year 2000, we decided to fence this property to keep the foxes out.
« It’s been really successful in this area that I’ve done here. We’re probably getting around 800 or 900 hatchlings going back into the lake each year now.
« Just around Lake Bonney, there are plenty of spots that could be fenced off [for turtle breeding] where it’s no good for camping. »
Urgent action needed to prevent extinction
FNPW chief executive Ian Darbyshire said urgent action was needed to prevent the extinction of River Murray turtles.
« The turtle has been around for 220 million years and it’s survived very well for all that time, but … the way it’s going, by the end of this century there’ll be hardly any or no turtles left, » he said.
« The turtle is suffering from a number of things, [such as changing] water levels in the river and drought, but the most serious issue is fox predation of turtle nests.
« The fox has discovered a taste for the turtle egg … and that’s causing about a 90 per cent loss. »
The FNPW is conducting a three-year research project into how native turtles can be saved, examining everything from improved fox-baiting methods to the construction of special turtle breeding islands along the River Murray.
Professor Darbyshire said creating more sanctuaries could form part of the solution, but should not be the only step.
« The real truth of a sanctuary is that it starts to become a bit of a zoo, » he said.
« What we would like to see is that the species can survive in its natural habitat, and that’s the idea of this research.
« It’s to say, what’s harming the turtle and how can we keep the turtle in its natural environment and survive, and increase its numbers again? »