Turtle expert Scott O’Keeffe from Biosecurity Queensland puckers up to an indigenous Krefft’s turtle while searching for the red-eared slider yesterday.
Turtle expert Scott O’Keeffe from Biosecurity Queensland puckers up to an indigenous Krefft’s turtle while searching for the red-eared slider yesterday.

Slider turtle threat to wildlife

NESTLED in amongst the rolling green hills at Neerdie lies a small dam, the peaceful surroundings play down the threat that maybe lurking beneath the surface waiting to out compete our native fauna.

Australia’s top red-eared slider turtle expert Scott O’Keeffe has been trawling dams off Anderleigh Road and Erins Knob Road for the last week after a local landowner found one of the class one pests.

He said the aggressive slider was known to snap and would bite; if found people should keep their hands away from the turtle’s beak-type mouths.

Gympie Region councillors were recently told a landowner found the turtle and took pictures of to try and identify it but innocently released it back into the wild after no success.

Days later Biosecurity Queensland identified the slider and sent out a team to try and catch the pest.

Local land protection manager Ben Curley said council was concerned with the find as the pest was previously unknown to the region.

“The last thing we want is it getting into the waterways,” he said.

Mr O’Keeffe said so far netting and traps had been unsuccessful in catching the slider which, from photographs, had been identified as a male.

But lots of healthy local turtles that he is trying to protect were found.

The ecologist said there were no indications the slider had been breeding in the area, which was a good thing.

He said the highly invasive species that originated from America was now established in 75 countries and exported all over the world.

And in those countries where it has established, numbers of native turtle species had declined.

“The time to act is before they become widespread,” he said.

So far the turtles were only known to have bred in two places in Queensland, Mango Hill – where they are thought to have been eradicated – and Burpengary – where programs were ongoing to control their spread.

The female slider can store sperm in her body for up to five years after mating and lay numerous fertilised eggs in that period.

They are a threat to native species because they are adaptable, eat anything and can virtually live in any condition.

Hard to catch as they burrow and detect vibrations through the ground warning them of approach, Mr O’Keeffe has trained sniffer dogs to detect their eggs, urine and hatchlings.

He said it was a bit of a surprise one was found in the area but as they were popular with collectors it could have been released.

A Biosecurity Queensland spokesperson said Gympie Regional Council and the Mary River Catchment Co-ordinating Committee were trapping and netting, undertaking surveillance of surrounding areas and distributing information on the animal to local residents along with their own team. It is illegal to keep the slider turtle as a pet and to be sold but in council’s point of view the focus is on trying to stop the spread of the pest.

Mr Curley said if you had one in your possession you wouldn’t be prosecuted for turning it in.

Sliders can easily be distinguished from native turtles as they pull their heads back inside their bodies and native turtles tuck their heads to the side of their bodies.

For suspected sightings, or if you have a red-eared slider turtle in your possession do not dispose of it in a waterway and contact Biosecurity Queensland on 13 25 23.

Gympie Times

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