“They’re often illegally purchased when they’re very small and attractive but grow rapidly into large adults capable of biting their owners,” Mr Marshall said.
Invasive species officer Ian Turnbull advises Sydneysiders to not be fooled by the red-eared sliders’ cute appearance. “They’re aggressive … the only species of turtle I’ve ever been physically snapped at when I’ve approached them. Native turtles do not do that,” he said.
Mr Marshall has enlisted the help of two English springer spaniels, Ash and Bunya, to curb the rapidly rising number of red-eared slider turtles. They’re part of a four-dog alien sniffing squad which helps the NSW Department of Primary Industries to stamp out non-native species from the wild.
Ash and Bunya can detect the red-eared pest from more than 100 metres away and are specially trained to ignore other species of turtles. Trainer Brad Nesbitt has taught them to passively indicate the presence of the pest by pointing their noses or sitting at the relevant spot upon detecting their scent.
“It’s difficult to gauge how big the population is,” Mr Nesbitt said. “In Fairfield the dogs trained with a trapper who caught over 16 turtles in a single body of water but in other places, it’s only two or three.
“While all alien species are concerning, these turtles are the only established population so we really need to get on top of curbing their spread.”
Last year, a NSW DPI compliance investigation found 90 red-eared slider turtles and two alligator snapping turtles being illegally kept in one backyard in Sydney’s south-west.
The investigation resulted in the conviction of a Milperra man in Bankstown Local Court in December. This was the first prosecution brought by the department under the Biosecurity Act introduced in 2015.
The man was fined $4950 and ordered to pay DPI’s investigative costs which totalled $2405.72.
Sydneysiders are advised to look out for non-native looking animals including snakes, turtles, lizards and other reptiles, mammals and amphibians.
Anyone spotting a red-eared slider turtle is asked to call the DPI on 1800 680 244.
Amelia McGuire is a producer at The Sydney Morning Herald.