In 1990, Steve Irwin discovered a rare species of freshwater turtle on the Burdekin River, Queensland. Today, habitat destruction and pollution are threatening their existence.
Elseya irwini is best known for an ability shared with few other freshwater turtles. It can breathe underwater by taking in water through gill-like structures in its cloaca, resulting in it commonly being known as the “bum-breather.” They are also distinguished with exceptionally sturdy skulls and females with a prominent pale colouration caused by the lack of pigment-containing cells near the surface of the skin.
RARE REPTILE UNDER THREAT
Irwin’s turtle was thought to have been lost from the lower Burdekin River, as it was not seen for approximately 25 years. It is believed the disappearance was caused by ecological changes, mainly increased turbidity, from the construction of the Burdekin Falls Dam in 1987. Irwin’s turtles have a specialised habitat, requiring fresh oxygenated water to conduct cloacal breathing. Sadly, this also means they are susceptible to habitat degradation. Since the establishment of the Burdekin Dam in 1987, the turtle’s population has been in decline. With future development being sought, the future of this remarkable turtle is in peril.
FIGHTING TO PROTECT IRWIN’S TURTLE
Little is known about their population. When their conservation status was assessed under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, it was determined that there was too little information to be able to list the turtle under any category. We hope to change that! To ensure their future, Wildlife Warriors and Australia Zoo have partnered to establish an insurance population, with the aim of breeding and releasing the turtles in the future.
A gift from you today will help discover more about these unique reptiles and how to protect the species named in Steve’s honour.