SMALL enough to fit into the palm of your hand and some less than a day old, about 50 white-throated snapping turtle hatchlings were released back into the Burnett River by Queensland Parks and Wildlife rangers yesterday.
The tiny animals hatched at the Paradise Dam Hatchery after egg clutches had been transported there to protect them from predators such as goannas, foxes and wild dogs.
Senior ranger at Paradise Dam Greg Aberdein could not hide the smile on his face as he watched the hatchlings take to the water.
“They’re like my kids. I spend half my life with them at the hatchery,” he said.
Queensland Parks and Wildlife senior technical officer Duncan Limpus said the hatchery was vital in helping preserve the rapidly decreasing species which is undergoing evaluation to be declared endangered.
“We have very few young turtles replacing the old. Currently 96% of the turtles are adults,” Mr Limpus said.
Since the hatching program started four years ago about 2000 hatchlings have been released into the wild with more than 480 released so far this year.
Mr Limpus said the freshwater turtles only laid one clutch a year of about 12 eggs meaning that losing just one clutch had a devastating effect on the turtle population.
“It’s a good feeling to get these guys back in the river. If it weren’t for the hatchery they wouldn’t be here,” he said.
The struggles for the hatchlings do not end upon release, with predators such as water rats, fish and birds having a taste for the baby turtles until they grow larger.
Cattle was also a problem for the nests along the river as the clutches were not buried very deep and the weight of the cattle, as they walk across the nests, would crush the eggs.
Adding to the rangers’ struggle is how much they do not know about the creatures affectionately known as “bum breathing” turtles.
Mr Limpus said they were unsure of the survival rate of the hatchlings they had released, but each year the hatchlings were marked to determine when they were released if they caught later.
Mr Limpus said it was still unknown how long the turtles lived, but it was estimated to be about 60 years.
It is not known how many turtles were alive, although about 2000 had been caught in Burnett Catchment Area.