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Turtle protection program outfoxes predators

An innovative project at the internationally-recognised Hattah Lakes is aiming to reduce the number of turtle eggs eaten by foxes during the breeding season.

Turtle protection program outfoxes predators

Eastern Long Neck Turtle

The four-month control program is designed to reduce predation pressure on turtles during their active nesting season, between October and February.

This program is supported by the Mallee CMA, through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Programme. Important project support has also been provided by the Arthur Rylah Institute and Parks Victoria.

Chairperson of the Mallee CMA Sharyon Peart said while there was a healthy population of Eastern Long Neck Turtles within the lakes, tackling fox numbers was a key element in ensuring their long-term population health.

“The turtles lay their eggs in the sandy shore lines of the lakes, but they dig only shallow nests so there is an ongoing problem with foxes digging up the eggs and eating them,” Ms Peart said.

“Turtles can live for many years, but it goes without saying that we need to protect their breeding activity to ensure a healthy population at the lakes into the future.”

Mallee CMA Project Officer for Water Malcolm Thompson said motion-sensor cameras were installed at the Ramsar-listed wetlands as part of the program and confirmed the extent of the problem.

“The environmental watering at Hattah has created a pristine wetland environment that gives foxes an opportunity to feast on whatever nature dishes up to them on the foreshores,” Mr Thompson said.

“We set up artificial nests before the breeding season using quail eggs sourced from Mildura, which are similar to turtle eggs, so we could monitor how many nests the foxes could potentially be raiding,” he said.

“We had cameras recording data for six weeks and the images show foxes digging up the artificial nests and eating the eggs.  We now know that fox predation of nests can be as high as 93 percent.”

A 1080 poison fox baiting program was implemented from October, using various types of baits sourced from Ouyen at 175 sites around the lakes.

“The early signs are promising, with 174 baits taken at the end of December,” Mr Thompson said.

“We will set up the cameras again at the conclusion of the project to compare before and after, so we can quantify the program’s impact, but we think it’s working really well.

 “With fox numbers reduced the turtles and other native fauna will thrive in this conservation wetland paradise.”



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