A year on from a devastating summer of bushfires that decimated many native wildlife populations, Symbio Wildlife Park has received its largest ever grant which will be used for emergency interventions to help save three native species.
With a growing reputation for helping ensure the survival of the koala and the green and golden bell frog, the Helensburgh zoo has been granted more than $800,000 to help ensure the survival of the Manning River helmeted turtle, Georges' turtle and the stuttering frog. The federal funding is from the Wildlife Rescue Rehabilitation Program.
The three species were almost wiped out a year ago and the large grant being provided as part of the Australian government's $50 million Bushfire Wildlife and Habitat Recovery Package is being used for new breeding and pre-release facilities.
The goal for Symbio's passionate team of zookeepers is to increase the size of each captive population as insurance to ensure their survival before eventual release of the turtles and frogs back into the wild.
Ongoing monitoring, data collection and community awareness and education are components of each project.
Symbio general manager Matt Radnidge said he was extremely proud of the Symbio team who took the initiative to develop the projects and led the way in preparing the three successful applications.
"We were invited to apply by the Zoo and Aquarium Association," he said.
"We were already running two breed for release programs contracted to the state government and these are our first federal government programs. It is exciting the Australian government has invited little old Symbio to save these species. They have entrusted us with a massive responsibility."
Symbio had to prove its capacity to deliver within 12 months and outline its experience and previous results achieved.
Mr Radnidge said zookeepers were able to demonstrate how they had helped RMS with the green and golden bell frog. While the WestConnex was being built, Symbio housed the entire population of green and golden bell frogs from one of the eight priority locations left in NSW.
Symbio was also able to show how it was helping ensure the survival of the Bellinger River snapping turtle (Georges' turtle) when the species was listed as critically endangered after a mass mortality event in the wild that wiped out almost all the breeding age turtles that were left in the wild.
"We now hold 10 per cent of the remaining population of that entire species after the devastating fires," Mr Radnidge said.
"One of the grants is for an expansion of the Bellinger River snapping turtle program so we can now breed the animals, raise the young and release them back into the wild."
The Manning River helmeted turtle and stuttering frog populations were also decimated by fires.
Symbio's birds, reptiles and bugs supervisor Naomi Johnston said the zoo already had 19 of the Bellinger River turtles and was working with Taronga Zoo which had more.
"They are still juveniles. They are not yet at breeding age but hopefully 2021 might be a big year for that. It is awesome to receive such a significant grant for this work," she said.
Ms Johnston has always wanted to help save endangered wildlife and secured a job at the family run zoo after starting as a volunteer five years ago.
Fellow zookeeper Jake Webb did the application for the stuttering frog after being involved in helping to save the green and golden bell frog.
"Based on our success with the frog species I think they were comfortable to give us the opportunity to work with another one," Mr Webb said.
"This will give us the opportunity to build more breeding facilities to help this frog that very little is known about. It will help us create an insurance population, house them here and breed them to then release more young frogs and tadpoles back out into the wild.
"They live on the edge of water and creeks up and down the east coast of NSW and their habitat was greatly affected by bushfires.
"Like all zookeepers my ultimate goal is animal conservation. I want to help struggling populations build their numbers back up so they are not endangered anymore."
Mr Radnidge said Symbio had other breed-for-release projects planned. "We live to challenge and give our team the opportunity to lead and develop new projects and that is why so many people here have grown to the level they are."