SYDNEY, May 23 (Xinhua) -- Ten critically endangered turtles have been released back into the wild on the Mid North Coast of Australia on Thursday to mark the World Turtle Day.
One of the rarest turtle species on earth, the Bellinger River Snapping Turtle was almost wiped out four years ago when a mysterious "freak virus" tore through the population.
"Before the disease outbreak, we estimate there were up to 4,500 of these freshwater turtles living in the Bellinger Catchment - the only place they're found on earth," New South Wales (NSW) State Environment Minister Matt Kean said.
"Sadly, 90 percent of the animals were wiped out in 2015 because of the virus."
"About 20 virus-free turtles were able to be collected from the river for a captive breeding program at Taronga Zoo in an effort to try to secure a future for this species and improve the environment for our future generations."
"Now, on World Turtle Day, it's fantastic that we're able to announce the breeding program is proving a success, and we've released 10 juvenile turtles back into their natural habitat."
As part of the state government's 100-million-Australian dollar (68.75-million-U.S. dollar) Saving our Species Fund, 22 healthy turtles hatched in the first year of the captive breeding program. In 2018, 31 more healthy turtles followed.
"The number one goal of Saving our Species Fund is to secure the future of threatened plants and animals in NSW so they can live safely in their natural habitat," Kean said.
"This project in the Bellinger River shows that with strong community support and partnerships, we can make real positive change to our threatened species."
According to the State Member of State Parliament in Oxley, Melinda Pavey, the 10 turtles released will be closely monitored with the help of the local community.
"The people living along this river are passionate about protecting the flora and fauna that rely on it," she said.