Endangered alligator turtle found in Australia city sewer

Nov. 30, 2000
The discovery of a rare alligator snapper turtle in a Sydney sewer has surprised wildlife experts and sent shudders through city folk who rarely come into contact with exotic reptiles.

By ROGER MAYNARD

SYDNEY, Australia, Nov 29, 2000 (South China Morning Post)--The discovery of a rare alligator snapper turtle in a Sydney sewer has surprised wildlife experts and sent shudders through city folk who rarely come into contact with exotic reptiles.

Like those New York urban myths that tell of alligators entering apartments via the toilet basin, the tale of Cowabunga has all the drama and intrigue of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Only this creature is for real. The large reptile, measuring at least 50cm long and weighing about 25kg, is not indigenous to Australia but was found lurking in a drain by a builder in the Sydney suburb of Alexandria. "It's the weirdest beast I've been called to save," reptile rescuer Brad McDonald said. "I thought they were having me on at first."

The turtle was so big and unwieldy it took six men and a wheelbarrow to pull it out of the drain.

The removal was not made any easier by the knowledge that the creature had a set of sharp teeth, powerful enough to bite a broomstick in half.

The alligator snapper is listed as an endangered species by the World Wildlife Fund and is native to the southeastern United States. It is the world's largest freshwater turtle.

The question naturalists are keen to answer is how on earth it reached Australia.

The most likely explanation is that it was one of eight baby alligator snapper turtles stolen from a Sydney wildlife park more than 20 years ago.

The thief might have panicked and dropped them into the sewer.

This raises the possibility that Sydney's drainage system might house an entire colony of alligator snapper turtles.

Meanwhile Cowabunga, named for the catch-cry of the cartoon Mutant Ninja Turtles, is being looked after at a reptile park, which already boasts a female of the species.

"We haven't introduced them yet but hopefully there will be a romance," a park spokesman said.

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