NSW Turtle Species Face Threat To Extinction Due To Mysterious Disease

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Snapping turtle
IN PHOTO: Animal keeper Anton Geissenbacher holds a baby South American snapping turtle (Chelydra acutirostris) at Schoenbrunn Zoo in Vienna July 31, 2012. Four of these snapping turtles, which originally lived in Costa Rica and Colombia, were hatched in July at the zoo marking the first time this species were bred in captivity. According to Geissenbacher, these snapping turtles are a rare species with nearly no information available about their about life, reproduction and population size. Reuters/Herwig Prammer

An unknown disease has affected a turtle species from New South Wales and is threatening its population. Scientists fear that the species’ population could totally vanish in just two months due to the mysterious disease, The Guardian reports.

According to the report, authorities have assigned a wildlife biosecurity team—the state’s first—to stop the spread of the disease to fresh waterways, believed to be the habitat of the Bellinger River snapping turtle. The native turtles of mid-north coast of NSW are loved by many conservationists because these turtles express permanent grins on their faces.

Seventeen of these turtles are now under the care of the University of Western Sydney, and scientists fear they could be the last of their species left on this planet. According to the university zoologist Ricky Spencer, the whole species could be afflicted with the disease, and they had to save what they could before winter comes.

The Guardian reports that canoeists first discovered that there were many dead turtles by the river. Since then, over 400 dead turtles have been found and with others in a dying state.

Lawrence Orel of the Office of Environment and Heritage in NSW said in an ABC report that measures have been taken to figure out the cause of the problem and how badly it has taken a toll on wildlife. Two other turtle species unique to the region are also facing concerns, but the mysterious turtle disease only specifically affected the Bellinger River snapping turtle.

The mysterious turtle disease is untreatable, sources say. It has a 100% mortality rate and has affected about 90% of the species. However, Spencer said that what is known is that the disease kills and does so quickly.

“Within a month, the turtles have gone from not threatened to endangered or critically endangered. The problem is that they only exist in the Bellinger River and nowhere else in the world, so a population crash here means extinction,” he said.

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