1 thought on “Rare Western Swamp tortoises released in Australia

  1. Bum breathing turtle facing extinction

    09:47 AEST Tue Sep 9 2008

    Scientists are studying the diet and lifestyle of the “bum breathing” turtle species the late Steve Irwin discovered to help save it from extinction.

    Discovered when the late crocodile hunter and his father Bob pulled it up on a fishing line in 1990, the turtle is found only in Queensland’s Broken-Bowen River system west of Mackay and the lower Burdekin River.

    They took photos and referred them to a turtle expert who confirmed it as a new species, elseya irwini, after Steve’s death in September 2006.

    Irwin’s turtle is one of only a few species that can breathe underwater by absorbing air from water taken in through its cloaca.

    But with only around 5,000 left in the wild and proposals to build the Uranna dam in the state’s north, scientists say the future is looking bleak for the unique reptile.

    James Cook University’s school of veterinary science physiologist Dr Suzy Munns is joining forces with the university’s biomedical sciences ecologist Dr Ivan Lawler to improve the turtle’s chances of survival.

    Dr Munns said they were yet to establish how widespread cloacal breathing was, and what advantage it confers, if any.

    “If we can work this out, we can determine how cloacal respiration affects habitat choice and, in turn, show how human influence can impact on the turtle population, especially in the case of Irwin’s turtle,” she said.

    “We believe that one of the major benefits of cloacal breathing is that the amount of energy spent on having to surface is reduced significantly simply because they can obtain their oxygen from the surrounding water.”

    The pair also believe that because Irwin’s turtle does not need to use energy to surface, it can live in areas where the food source is scarce or of very poor quality.

    “This suits the turtle because it doesn’t have to compete with the neighbouring species for food,” Dr Munns said.

    Dr Lawler said part of the project would look at why Irwin’s turtle doesn’t live down river with the Krefft River turtle or up river with the Saw-Shelled turtle.

    He said it was a mystery why different species chose to live at different points in the river and rarely co-habit.

    “Turtle species segregate in the river and we are not sure why that occurs,” he said.



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