Scientists from the Australian Registry of Wildlife Health at Taronga and Zoo reptile specialists are preparing to search in the Bellinger River area to find out what species may be carrying the virus killing the now critically endangered Bellinger River Snapping Turtles.
As part of the joint agency team investigating what killed over 420 of these turtles, which are only found in the Northern NSW Bellinger River, Registry scientist, Dr Karrie Rose, successfully lead the diagnostic investigation and worked with NSW DPI scientists to identify the virus responsible.
With the help of Zoo keepers, NSW OEH staff and the Registry team plan to survey the area in November to assess how many turtles have survived the mass mortality event.
The Zoo staff are applying for the necessary licenses to collect samples for analysis to determine if other animals are carrying the virus.
Dr Rose said: “Each turtle examined was found to be suffering from an unusual and consistent pattern of severe inflammatory lesions. When active collaboration with six universities, and state and commonwealth agriculture laboratories ruled out the presence of known pathogens of reptiles and aquatic species we suspected that we were likely to be dealing with something new. Working with Dr. Peter Kirkland, and his team of virologists at NSW DPI, a novel virus has been identified as the likely cause of the outbreak (url to DPI media release). Additional field work is being undertaken to test any remnant turtles found as the animals emerge from torpor, and to survey other species in the waterway for the possible presence of the virus.”
The Registry provides diagnostic pathology services for state and commonwealth conservation departments, welfare services, species recovery programs, researchers and wildlife rehabilitators, including providing information and advice regarding diseases affecting free-living and captive wildlife in Australia to support species conservation and research endeavours.
The Registry also archives materials and information on wildlife diseases for future reference and research, disseminates information regarding wildlife health and provides a window into ecosystem health to increase our capacity to understand and response to events such as these.