Oregon Zoo Foundation

The mission of the Oregon Zoo Foundation is to foster community pride and involvement in the Oregon Zoo and to secure financial support for zoo conservation, education and animal welfare programs. These programs advance the zoo's mission to inspire the community to respect animals and to take action on behalf of the natural world by creating engaging experiences and advancing the highest level of animal welfare, environmental literacy and conservation science.
Aug 18, 2011

Update: August 2011

Newly-hatched western pond turtle
Newly-hatched western pond turtle

Western Pond Turtles Raised at the Oregon Zoo Will be Released into the Columbia River

Sat, 8/6/2011

Portland, OR - Portlanders may feel like summer’s just getting started, but for nine western pond turtles reared at the Oregon Zoo, a nearly yearlong stretch of warm days and nights will soon be drawing to an end.

The turtles have spent the past 11 months at the zoo, basking in the warmth and light of a simulated perpetual summer, and growing large enough to have a fighting chance in the wild. In its last turtle release of the season, the zoo will return these endangered reptiles to the wild Aug. 9, with the help of its conservation partners and some kids and teens from local schools and youth programs.

“The turtles think it’s summer year-round, so they never go into hibernation,” said Dr. David Shepherdson, Oregon Zoo conservation scientist. “They get bigger and bigger, experiencing almost three years’ growth in 11 months.”

Once the turtles reach a suitable size of about 70 grams (a little more than 2 ounces), they are returned to their homes and monitored for safety.

“Since the turtles are larger, predators such as non-native bullfrogs and large-mouth bass are no longer threats,” Shepherdson said.

The turtle reintroduction is part of a collaborative effort by the Oregon Zoo, Woodland Park Zoo, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Bonneville Power Administration. As part of the Western Pond Turtle Recovery Plan, conservation scientists “head-start” newly hatched turtles gathered from wild sites, nurturing them at both zoos for about 11 months. Scientists estimate that 95 percent of the turtles released back to sites in the Columbia Gorge have survived.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Western Pond Turtle Recovery Plan, begun by the Woodland Park Zoo and WDFW in 1991. The Oregon Zoo has been a collaborator in the project since 2000.

“Spending the first months of their life at the zoo gives the turtles a real edge,” explained Shepherdson. “We’re glad we could provide assistance in helping save these highly endangered turtles.”

Local youths enrolled in the Jane Goodall Environmental Middle School and the Skamania County Forest Youth Success Program, plus teens from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Youth Conservation Corps and the Oregon Zoo’s Zoo Animal Presenters program, will help biologists release the turtles in the Columbia River Gorge.

“It is one thing to learn about conservation efforts, but it makes a much bigger impact when you actually see a zoo-reared turtle released back into the wilds of the Columbia Gorge,” Shepherdson said.

Two decades ago, western pond turtles were on the verge of completely dying out in Washington, with only 150 turtles left in the Columbia River Gorge. Today, researchers estimate that there are more than 1,500. Habitat degradation and disease were, and still are, problems, but the biggest threat to fragile baby turtles is the bullfrog. Native to areas east of the Rockies, this nonindigenous frog has thrived throughout the West, driving pond turtles and a host of other small, vulnerable aquatic species to the brink of extinction.

To help restore these rare pond turtles to their natural habitat, recovery workers take to the field each year. Under the supervision of western pond turtle experts Kate and Frank Slavens, they count, trap and fit transmitters on adult female western pond turtles. The female turtles are monitored every two hours during the nesting season to determine where they nest. The nests, which the females dig in the ground and then cover after depositing their eggs, are protected with wire “exclosure” cages that help prevent predators from eating the eggs. The eggs are then allowed to incubate naturally, and the hatchlings are collected in the fall. The hatchlings are about the size of a quarter when they are removed and taken to the zoo facilities, where they can grow in safety. Unlike wild turtles, zoo turtles are fed throughout the winter, so by their summer release, the 11-month-olds are about as big as 3-year-old turtles that grew up in the wild.

Now listed as an endangered species in Washington and a sensitive species in Oregon, the western pond turtle was once common from Baja California to the Puget Sound. The Oregon Zoo’s participation in the Western Pond Turtle Recovery Plan is funded through The Oregon Zoo Foundation’s Future for Wildlife conservation fund, individual project donations through the GlobalGiving Foundation, the Bonneville Power Administration and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

11 months later: ready for release!
11 months later: ready for release!

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May 24, 2011

Spring 2011 Turtle Project Update

We're having another busy spring here in Portland with 49 young turtles under care here at the Oregon Zoo. These turtles were hatched in monitored nests in the wild and brought to the Zoo as hatchlings last September.

Since last fall, the young turtles have been living in semi-aquatic tanks in the zoo's Conservation Center inside the Cascades Stream and Pond exhibit building.  They are kept at room temperature which stimulates them to eat throughout the year.  Favorite foods include herring (3x/week)  and three different kinds of worms (wax, meal and earth).  By the end of this summer, the turtles will have grown to the size of three-year old turtles in the wild - too large to be eaten by non-native predators that include large mouth bass and bullfrogs - and can safely be released back into the wild in ponds near the Columbia River.

Under the direction of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, the goal of the Western Pond Turtle Recovery Program is to re-establish self-sustaining populations of western pond turtles in the Puget Sound and Columbia Gorge regions. The recovery objectives are to establish at least 5 populations of >200 pond turtles, composed of no more than 70% adults, which occupy habitat that is secure from development or major disturbance. It is also necessary that the populations show evidence of being sustained by natural recruitment of juveniles. The core pond turtle sites should be wetland complexes that may be less susceptible to catastrophes than sites of a single water body.

Thanks again to everyone for your help with this important conservation project. GlobalGivcing supporters DO make a difference and demonstrate progress on our stated mission: "to inspire our community to create a better future for wildlife."

Links:

Oct 19, 2010

October 2010 Update: Hatchling Roundup!

A newly-hatched turtle arrives at the zoo!
A newly-hatched turtle arrives at the zoo!

Many thanks to everyone who has contributed to the success of this conservation effort.  Here's the latest news on the turtle project!

ZOO’S TURTLE ROUNDUP SAVES HATCHLINGS FROM PREDATORS

Visitors can see endangered western pond turtles until they grow large enough for release

 PORTLAND, Ore. –– October 6, 2010 - It’s roundup time in the Northwest! For nearly a decade, the Oregon Zoo has employed a “head ’em up and move ’em out” strategy in its efforts to save endangered western pond turtles.

 Earlier this month, the zoo and its conservation partners rounded up turtle hatchlings from southwest Washington lakes to rear in a protected environment until they are big enough to be released back into the wild. Visitors can now view nearly 40 hatchlings –– each a bit larger than a quarter –– at the zoo’s conservation station, located in the Cascade Stream and Pond Building.

 Over the next nine months, zoo staff members will monitor and weigh the rare turtles as they grow. Once they reach a suitable weight of more than 2.5 ounces, the turtles will be returned to the wild and monitored for safety.

 “When we release the turtles, they’re big enough that predators like non-native bullfrogs are no longer a threat,” said David Shepherdson, the zoo’s conservation biologist. “The months the turtles spend at the zoo give them a real edge — scientists estimate that 95 percent of the turtles we’ve released into the Columbia River Gorge have survived.”

 Twenty years ago, western pond turtles had nearly disappeared from Washington, their native habitat, with only 150 turtles left in the wild. Today, researchers estimate there are about 1,600.

 Habitat degradation and disease continue to endanger the species, but the biggest threat to fragile baby turtles is the bullfrog. Native to areas east of the Rockies, this nonindigenous frog has thrived throughout the West, driving pond turtles and a host of other small, vulnerable aquatic species to the brink of extinction.

 “The Western Pond Turtle Recovery Project is a collaborative effort of the Oregon Zoo, Woodland Park Zoo, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Bonneville Power Administration,” said Kim Smith, zoo director. “We’re proud to be a partner in the effort to help restore the western pond turtle population and its habitat in the wild.”

 Every summer, wildlife recovery biologists monitor female turtles in the field to determine where they will dig their nests. Once the turtles have laid their eggs, workers cover the nests with wire “exclosure” cages that help prevent predators from eating the eggs. The eggs are then allowed to incubate naturally, and hatchlings are collected in the fall.

 The hatchlings are barely the size of a quarter when they are taken to the Oregon Zoo and the Woodland Park Zoo. Unlike wild turtles, the zoo turtles are fed and kept warm throughout the winter, so by their summer release, the 10-month-olds are as big as wild 3-year-old turtles.

 “We make sure our turtles can hold their own before releasing them into the wild,” Shepherdson said.

The zoo is a service of Metro, and is dedicated to its mission of inspiring the community to create a better future for wildlife. With award-winning programs in conservation, exhibits, education and animal enrichment, the zoo is a national leader in animal welfare and wildlife preservation. Committed to conservation, the zoo is currently working to save many endangered and threatened species, including California condors, Washington’s pygmy rabbits, Oregon silverspot and Taylor’s checkerspot butterflies, western pond turtles, Oregon spotted frogs and Kincaid’s lupine.

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