WATCH: Beautiful moment turtle and birds return to the wild
An unusual hybrid sea turtle temporarily kept for research and three tawny frogmouths seized from captivity have returned to the wild in separate releases to celebrate World Wildlife Day.
While the owl-like birds were initially seized by officers from the Department of Environment and Science (DES) from a wildlife centre that kept them illegally, the turtle arrived at Sea Life Sunshine Coast Aquarium in February, 2020 in an unrelated case.
Named Iluka - which means 'by the sea' in the Bundjalong language - the sea turtle had the underside of a flatback turtle, but the head and carapace colour of a loggerhead turtle.
A Sea Life spokeswoman said Iluka was born in a nest on Curtis Island that was being monitored by DES officers and brought in for research purposes.
"They were noticing more and more hatchlings appearing in Queensland and wanted to learn more," she said.
"The plan was always to release Iluka."
The reptile lived at Sea Life's Turtle Rehabilitation Centre behind the scenes at the aquarium, and was part of a study in collaboration with the DES.
The research focused on better understanding how hybrid turtles developed over time, in order to assist with the identification of such reptiles if found in the wild.
Iluka's growth patterns, including measuring, weighing and noting changes in shape and colour were monitored over the past year.
He was also microchipped, tagged and genetic tested before his release.
Sea Life Sunshine Coast veterinary nurse, Brittany Attwood, accompanied Iluka up to Mon Repos Turtle Centre near Bundaberg where he was released close to the waters edge.
"I have loved working with Iluka and watching him grow and develop over the past 12 months," she said.
"He came to us as a tiny hatchling and is now over 32cm long. Iluka is quite a cheeky little turtle and absolutely loves his food."
The three tawny frogmouths were also sent back into the bush in an unrelated release by DES officers.
The birds underwent veterinary checks with a wildlife vet following their seizure last year and had been kept in rehabilitation to ensure they were able to survive in the wild.
Southern Wildlife Operations Program Co-ordinator, Warren Christensen, said many animals that are seized in compliance operations could not successfully be returned to the bush.
"The risk of disease being transmitted to the wild population could be too great, or they have lost skills from a period in captivity," he said in a written statement.
"Some animals we rescue are unable to survive and thrive, or they are simply too unwell or injured to be released.
"Thankfully the three tawny frogmouths exhibited strong instinctive skills that would ensure their survival in the wild. Our vets looked them over thoroughly, and we kept them in a suitable environment that ensured they could rehabilitate after being illegally kept in unsuitable conditions," he said.
There was no immediate information available about the circumstances surrounding the seizure of the nocturnal birds, which are often mistaken for owls.
Mr Christensen said fines for keeping native wildlife could be up to $400,350, or two years' imprisonment.
"Taking a native animal from the wild is illegal and can have a detrimental impact on local populations," he said.
"It is illegal to take or keep native animals from the wild, however, with the appropriate wildlife authority, it's possible to keep a native animal bought from a registered seller.
"If people want to keep native animals, they must be sourced from a person or business who has permits to keep the animal, along with movement permits to prove the origins of the animal."
The rehabilitation of sick, injured or orphaned protected animals also requires a Rehabilitation Permit issued by the DES.
If anyone has any information about the illegal take, keep or trade of wildlife, they are urged to ring the department on 1300 130 372 or police.
The release of the animals coincides with March 3, the day proclaimed by the United Nationals General Assembly as World Wildlife Day.
World Wildlife Day aims to celebrate different forms of flora and fauna and to raise awareness of the need for conservation and protection.
Originally published as WATCH: Beautiful moment turtle, birds returned to the wild