In the mid-seventies, this species of freshwater turtle was commonly known as the ‘pet shop turtle’ or ‘penny turtle’, as literally thousands of young Mary River Turtles were collected from the wild to fuel the pet trade in the southern Australian states. Today, the species is officially classified as endangered.
Little is known of the Mary River Turtle, and it wasn’t until 1987 that a fully grown specimen was seen for the first time. This led to its formal scientific description as a new species as late as 1994. It has a very restricted distribution and can only be found on the Mary River in south east Queensland. This river exists entirely on private property and as a result, the habitat is not fully protected. Apart from the lack of biological information on the growth and breeding biology of this species, the quality of its habitat is in great decline. The main threats to this species in the wild are based in habitat degradation, and include problems such as a deterioration of water quality through riverside vegetation being cleared, water pollution through siltation, agricultural chemical contamination and water flow disruptions through the construction of weirs for irrigation and predation.
Due to the removal of many of the young who would now be of breeding age, the extent of the damage inflicted on the current breeding population remains unknown. Only a scattered few remain in captivity. Australia Zoo currently houses a pair of adult turtles in a large, naturalistic pond with climatic conditions identical to that of their natural habitat (they are found locally to the Zoo).
We have had major success with this breeding pair; in the summer of 2004 the Zoo managed to hatch eight Mary River Turtles. It is hoped that through the growth data we are gathering on these animals, we will be able to better understand them and consequently to ensure their survival in the future.