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Oz Press (2): Sewer-dwelling turtle opens can of worms


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Posted by Wes von Papineäu on November 28, 2000 at 06:17:13:

DAILY TELEGRAPH (Sydney, Australia) 28 November 00 Rare turtle found in drain
A rare American turtle with jaws capable of biting off fingers has been found in an inner-Sydney drain.
And experts say a family of the endangered alligator snapping turtles could be living in the city.
The rescued adult turtle is believed to be one of eight babies stolen from a reptile park 21 years ago.
Council workers stumbled on the surly creature – which can bite a broomstick in half – in Alexandria on the weekend.
Reptile rescuer Brad McDonald said it had probably been living in canals and wetlands for years, feeding on rats and cats.
"I reckon there's probably quite a few of them down there," he said.
Recent heavy rains had probably flushed out the large male, nicknamed Cowabunga after the catchy-cry of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
It took six men and a wheelbarrow to haul the turtle from the drain.
The possible link to the 1979 theft of the baby turtles emerged when Mr McDonald drove the creature to the Australian Reptile Park.
(He didn't get bitten but his car copped a clawing.)
The park has one other alligator snapper – a female which survived a fire at the park in July.
The turtle was found wandering through the glowing embers the morning after the blaze, but her partner had been killed.
Park managers now hope to use their latest addition to start another breeding program.
The alligator snapping turtles are native to America and are listed as one of the world's most endangered animals.
Numbers have dwindled because of pollution and loss of habitat.
Trappers are also known to sell their meat for soup.
The nocturnal turtles like to live in stagnant ponds or muddy, dirty habitats.
Rescuer Mr McDonald didn't believe it was an alligator snapper at first.
"I thought they were having me on. It's the weirdest beast I've been called to save," he said.
"It's good to see there's life in the drains of Sydney.
"But they're pretty dangerous. If you see one stay away from it and call some help."
Mary Rayner of Australian Reptile Park said the rescued turtle seemed placid and was resting in a pond.
"We haven't introduced him to our female yet, but we will," she said.
"And hopefully there'll be romance."
http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/common/story_page/0,4511,1462816%255E3163,00.html

THE AGE (Melbourne, Australia) 28 November 00 Sewer-dwelling turtle opens can of worms
(AAP): Could more rare American turtles be dwelling in the sewers and drains below Sydney?
That was a question being asked today after the surprise discovery of a 40kg endangered alligator snapping turtle in a stormwater drain on Sunday.
It is believed recent heavy rains washed the turtle into the drain from wetlands.
Experts believe the turtle is between 25 and 30 years old and is one of eight babies stolen from the Australian Reptile Park in 1979.
'We're thinking that this is one of the ones returning back home after 21 years. It's quite bizarre,' Australian Reptile Park spokeswoman Mary Rayner told AAP.
'There's a possibility that it was an illegal pet or an illegal escapee. But we're pretty sure that it's one of the ones (stolen).'
'Eric (the Park's founder) put out a reward for these animals and nothing came of it. But maybe the guy who stole them panicked and then released them into the wild.'
Nicknamed Leonardo - after the sewer-based warrior from the fictitious Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles - the turtle has been handed over to the reptile park.
Leonardo's homecoming could become a double celebration, with Park staff hoping he will take their female turtle as his bride.
The female alligator snapper turtle was one of four which survived a devastating electrical fire which raced through the park in July, killing most of the reptiles and spiders.
Ms Rayner hopes the pair can rekindle the Park's breeding program.
'So now we've got our male back. I think it's a lovely fairytale ending,' she said.
Alligator snappers - so-named because they feast on small alligators - live on a diet of fish, yabbies and frogs when in their native southern US swamp habitat.
But in Sydney's normally dry maze of stormwater pipes, Leonardo would have feasted on a less extravagant diet of rats and cats, Ms Rayner said.
Just moving the metre-long reptile into a car took six men and awheelbarrow, where it clawed apart the car's upholstery.
'I wouldn't approach one. They can be dangerous - they've got a very, very powerful jaw that can sever a finger, or at least do some horrendous damage,' Ms Rayner said.
Leonardo and his arranged mate will go on display in their shared pond when the Park reopens on Boxing Day.
While not ruling out the possibility of Leonardo's long-lost family still lurking under Sydney's streets, Ms Rayner said park staff would not be trawling the city's sewers for the remaining stolen seven.
'The situation is right for breeding in the Sydney waters. But did all eight survive if they were released into the wild?'
http://www.theage.com.au/breaking/0011/28/A43593-2000Nov28.shtml



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