MARCH 12 2020 Taronga's zoo-based population of the critically endangered Bellinger River Snapping Turtle has received a significant boost with the hatching of 35 turtle babies this year. Endemic to the Bellinger River on the mid north coast of NSW, this species of short-necked freshwater turtle was almost completely wiped out in 2015 when a novel virus infiltrated the river. A NSW Government emergency response team was formed to investigate and coordinate the rescue of a group of healthy turtles to establish an insurance population. Taronga is working closely with NSW Department of Planning Industry and Environment (DPIE), Western Sydney University and Symbio Wildlife Park to save this species. DPIE scientists managed to retrieve 16 healthy turtles from the river in 2015, which were later relocated to a special quarantine breeding facility at Taronga Zoo in Sydney. "This is our fourth successful breeding season of the Bellinger River Snapping Turtle, and we now have nearly 100 of these turtles living at our quarantine facility at Taronga Zoo," Adam Skidmore, a Taronga reptile keeper who cares for the species, said. "The hatchlings are doing really well - eating lots and growing - and we are really happy with their development. "During the breeding season we check the nests daily. We then remove the eggs, weigh and measure them and place them in our incubator. We then check on them daily and wait for them to hatch, which can take up to 70 days." The Bellinger River Snapping Turtle recovery project is coordinated by the NSW's Government's Saving our Species (SoS) program. The project aims to release the healthy turtles bred at Taronga back to the Bellinger River. Threatened species officers from SoS have coordinated two release events to date, and are tracking and monitoring the progress of the turtles now living back in the Bellinger River. "We have so far released 20 snapping turtles back into their natural environment and we are delighted to say their survival rate has been extremely high," SoS Threatened Species Officer Gerry McGilvray said. "This species could have been wiped out if not for the rapid response from Saving our Species and its partners. Releasing animals bred in captivity at Taronga represents a big step on the path to securing this species in the wild."