The Mary river turtle is just one of many endangered Australian reptile species which have fallen between the conservation cracks
The Australian government does not have a plan to save an endangered Australian turtle species that received global attention on Thursday for its green mohawk and its ability to breathe through its genitals.
The Mary river turtle, found only in that one river in Queensland, attracted worldwide headlines as one of the standout species on a new list of the most vulnerable reptile species compiled by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL).
But despite this listing it does not have a national recovery plan to protect it from extinction and it is unclear whether any federal government funds have been specifically allocated for its protection.
The turtle is 29th on ZSLs Evolutionary Distinct and Globally Endangered (Edge) list for reptiles, which highlights the conservation needs of some of the worlds unique reptiles.
The turtle is not the only reptile species found in Australia to appear on the list, with eight species making the top 100, and seven of those appearing in the top 40.
Among them are the critically endangered western swamp tortoise, which is number seven on the Edge list, the pig-nosed turtle, number 19 on the list, and the Gulbaru Gecko, a critically endangered Queensland species that was only discovered in 2001 and appears at 40 on the list.
Conservationists say the list highlights the lack of conservation attention many Australian reptiles receive compared to more charismatic and iconic mammal and bird species.
The federal governments threatened species strategy specifically targets 20 mammals, 20 birds and 30 plants, but no reptiles.
Australia is one of the richest places in the world when it comes to reptile biodiversity, yet our federal governments threatened species strategy doesnt even include reptiles. It is an entire class of species missing from the current national recovery efforts, said Australian Conservation Foundation policy analyst James Trezise.
The research shows species like the Mary river turtle and western swamp tortoise are globally significant. If we are to see these species survive into the future we need more effective laws to protect their habitat and our governments must significantly increase funding available for their recovery.
According to the Edge list, the population numbers for the Mary river turtle are unknown. The species is listed as endangered under Australias national environment laws the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act but it has not been recommended for a national recovery plan. Instead, the Environment and Energy Departments EPBC database lists a two-page conservation advice that includes a list of priority actions that would help protect the species.
The pig-nosed turtle, which appears at number 19 on the Edge list, is not protected under Australias national environment laws at all because it was ruled as ineligible for a threatened species listing under the EPBC Act in 2005.
Scientists and conservationists say the Edge list also highlights the dire state of affairs for non-turtle species such as lizards and snakes.
Seven of the Australian species that appear in the top 100 on the list are turtles. Associate Professor Dave Chapple from the School of Biological Sciences at Monash University said the dominance by turtles on the list was partly because more was known about them.
On a worldwide level, the number of reptiles is 10,711 as of February this year. The number of turtle species is only 350. There are 6,451 lizards and 3,691 snakes, Associate Professor Chapple said.
Obviously the number of lizards and snakes is substantially higher than all of the other groups. But what generally happens is turtles are quite large which has been linked to increased extinction risk charismatic and well known, so we know a lot more about their conservation status.
He is hoping that will soon change in Australia with the forthcoming publication of new conservation information about Australias lizards and snakes.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature conducted two workshops in Australia in 2017 to assess the conservation status of about 970 of Australias snake and lizard species, which at the time represented 100% of Australian species. Of those, 10 to 15% are believed to be threatened. Before that, only about 15% of Australian snakes and lizards had had their conservation status assessed by the IUCN.
Associate Professor Chapple said now that scientists knew which Australian lizard and snake species met the criteria for a threatened species listing through the IUCN, they were using the information to focus on the species most in need of being added to the list of threatened species in Australia.
In terms of actions based on our updated knowledge of the threat status, we need to put work into that area and thats where our focus should be now, he said.
Tim Doherty, a research fellow Deakin Universitys Centre for Integrative Ecology, said more support for Australian reptiles was essential because the country was a global hotspot for reptile biodiversity.
Weve got more than 1,000 different species which equates to roughly 10% of the global total of the worlds reptiles, and more than 90% of our species are endemic, meaning theyre found nowhere else in the world, Dr Doherty said.