Bellinger River Snapping Turtles info session at Turtlefest

Dr Karrie Rose of Taronga Zoo explained the diagnostic investigation

Sher showed us gruesome images of infected turtles’ livers and kidneys and brains.

  • Multi-organisation approach to diagnosis
  • February 18th first report was received, on the 20th February, the first sick animals were received for testing
  • A number of tests were done concurrently, that is, we didn’t wait for the results of one test before moving on to the next.
  • Variety of tests conducted included viral, bacterial, and fungal culture, assessment of internal and external parasites, and diagnostic testing for specific infectious agents
  • Looked for infectious pathogens of reptiles, aquatic species and agents known to cause eye lesions · EPA looked at water quality and did pesticide tests
  • At the first public meeting, we didn’t know what the cause was
  • An additional round of viral cultures using additional culture medium and incubation at a range of temperatures identified a new virus
  • Confident it is the causal agent for the disease in the Bellinger River Snapping Turtles
  • Viral genome has been sequenced: – Similar to reptile/fish virus (not closely related to any mammalian virus)
  • In November, the surveillance team collected fish, invertebrates, reptiles, anything they could catch and swabbed them to test for the presence of the new virus
  • Can the virus persist in water to be transferred or is it contact to contact in animals? We still don’t know.

    Dr Karrie Rose from Taronga Zoo, Turtlefest

    Dr Karrie Rose from Taronga Zoo, Turtlefest

It is a powerful virus, death takes 5-10 days.

We are still unsure if the virus is in the river. It will be breeding time soon for the virus free population in Taronga Zoo. This will be critical.

All Australian turtles are in decline (95% of turtle deaths by fox predation). From the Murray River turtle research, if predation is reduced by 10% then the turtle population is sustainable. This by fencing nesting sites, or baiting programs,