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SYDNEY: Australian Mary River tortoise, with her green Mohican-style hair and ability to breathe through her genitals, is one of the most distinctive reptiles in the world. It is also now officially among the most threatened.
The 'punk turtle' was ranked 29th on the Zoological Society of London's Distinct Evolutionary and Globally Endangered list this week, prompting calls for better protection of the reptile found on a remote part of Australia's east coast. .
"You have to go back about 50 million years to find closely related species," said Marilyn Connell, a researcher at Australia's Charles Darwin University.
"It would be a failure if we allow this animal that walked alongside the dinosaurs to go extinct."
Once a popular pet in Australia, the exact population of the Mary River tortoise, known to biologists as Elusor macrurus, is unknown, the Zoological Society of London said. Her distinctive hairstyle is actually seaweed growing on her head.
Academic research was hampered in 1974 when traders refused to reveal the habitat of what was then known as "Penny Turtles" after Australia outlawed the practice of keeping them as pets.
Almost 20 years later, John Cann, a Sydney-based turtle enthusiast, rediscovered the turtle in the Mary River in Queensland. It was classified as a new species.
The turtle's habitat is not fully protected, Cann said, and the introduction of new species of fish into the waterway also threatened the juvenile turtles.
"They survived in good numbers for millions of years," Cann said. "Then the pigs and foxes came, and on top of the predators and native people, that's what has put them in danger."
Original article (in English)