As we head into western turtle release season there are 26 turtle hatchlings residing in the Oregon Zoo Conservation Lab. These little guys all hatched in the wild: eleven came directly to us after hatching in the fall of 2014 and the rest spent the winter in the wild and were brought in during the spring of 2015.
Thanks to your support through Global Giving this year we installed brand new, wide spectrum light fixtures in the lab. Meeting with WDFW biologists and staff from Woodland Park Zoo we have some big changes to our protocols for the upcoming season!! We look forward to utilizing cutting edge intelligence to offer our hatchlings the very best care available! This will mean new improved (and even more comfy) 'basking mats' in each tub as well as an outdoor area where our turtles will be able to bask in the sun's rays on a regular basis (as temperatures dictate). In addition we are working closely Woodland Park Zoo and our staff nutritionist to optimize their daily diets! Big Changes in an ever evolving program!
Thank you for supporting the western pond turtles!
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 biggest threat to fragile baby turtles has been 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.
Once again, a group of turtles at the Oregon Zoo are participating in “head starting” – a chance to grow too big to be eaten by non-native predators. Presently we have seven hold overs that were hatched in the wild in September 2013. These hatchlings spent the winter in their native ponds and came to us in the spring of 2014 as they emerged from their ponds. At that time some were as small as 3.5 grams! All seven now weigh over 150 grams with the largest at 190 grams. In September 2014 these juveniles were joined in the Conservation Lab by eleven recently hatched turtles. Together these hatchlings have spent the winter and spring in the conservation lab eating and basking in the artificial sun of our lights. They should be ready to be released back into the ponds where they were collected as soon as Columbia gorge climate is ready for them!
Two Oregon Zoo staff recently attended an Association of Zoos and Aquariums “SAFE” meeting on the Western Pond Turtle. This is a new initiative of AZA entitled “Saving Animals from Extinction” and is an effort to facilitate range-wide collaboration for endangered species. They are bringing together public agencies, scientists, veterinarians and zoo conservation staff to share information and improve effectiveness of conservation efforts. The group discussed initiatives geared toward raising awareness of the turtle and the threats to its survival range-wide, improving our knowledge of the species’ natural history and ways we can identify threats to its habitat Thank you for supporting this impactful project!
Once common from Baja California to Puget Sound, the small, long-lived western pond turtle (Actinemys marmorata) is listed as endangered in Washington and threatened in Oregon. The Oregon Zoo works to restore this shy reptile to its historic range through a unique head-starting program. With the help of Global Giving supporters, Western pond turtle numbers are on the rise!
With the help of GlobalGiving supporters, another group of Western Pond Turtles is getting their “head-start” at the Oregon Zoo this winter. Twelve turtles hatched in late summer 2014, along with seven hold overs from last year, are currently basking in the warmth and light of a simulated summer. In the wild, hatchlings become dormant in the cold. But the enhanced light and warmth at the zoo stimulates them to continue to eat and grow.
And they are all growing quickly. The seven hold overs who were hatched in 2013 now weigh more than 90 grams and the new hatchlings are 19-75 grams. They will likely be released in July or August of 2015. By this time, they will be large enough to have a fighting chance in the wild.
The turtles are raised in the conservation lab within the Pacific Northwest Exhibit of the Oregon Zoo, so visitors and zoo campers are able to observe their growth and learn more about this important conservation project.
On behalf of the turtles, zoo conservationists and our young learners, thank you!
Portlanders may feel like summer’s just reaching its peak. But for six western pond turtles reared at the Oregon Zoo, a nearly yearlong stretch of warm days and nights has drawn to an end.
The turtles have spent the past 11 months at the zoo basking in the warmth and light of a simulated summer, and growing large enough to have a fighting chance in the wild. The zoo returned these endangered reptiles to the wild July 29, with the help of its conservation partners and some teens from local youth programs. On June 30, the zoo released 11 of the largest turtles it had been rearing over the winter, and this batch of six will be the last ones for the year.
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, Bonneville Power Administration and USDA Forest Service. As part of the Western Pond Turtle Recovery Project, conservation scientists “head-start” newly hatched turtles gathered from wild sites, nurturing them at both zoos for about 11 months. In one study, scientists estimated that 95 percent of the turtles released back to sites in the Columbia Gorge survive annually.
Local students from Portland Community College’s Biology and Management of Zoo Animalsprogram and the Oregon Zoo’s Zoo Animal Presenters program helped biologists release the turtles in the Columbia River Gorge. “We like to involve local students and youth programs in these releases whenever possible,” Shepherdson said. “When you actually see a zoo-reared turtle released back into the wilds of the Columbia Gorge, it makes a much bigger impact than if you’re just learning about conservation efforts.”
Two decades ago, western pond turtles were on the verge of completely dying out in Washington, with fewer than 100 turtles left in the state. Today, researchers estimate there are more than 1,600. The biggest threat to fragile baby turtles has been 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 watch a video about the zoo’s western pond turtle recovery efforts, visit:
To learn more, visit
With the help of our GlobalGiving supporters, the Oregon Zoo is working to conserve and restore populations of the Western Pond Turtle and we have been making great progress.
The population in the Conservation Lab is now 24 hatchlings. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) brought us seven hatchlings this spring from the Washington side of the Columbia river gorge. They weighed 5.3-10.5 grams at the time and would be susceptible to non-native predators at this size. These turtles hatched in Sept of 2013 and wintered in the mud on the bottom of the ponds in the gorge. They were collected by WDFW Biologists as they started to come out of the mud in the spring and they already 7.6-23.6 grams. Now they are safe from introduced species such as bass and bullfrogs that might decide they make a nice snack. By the time they leave us they will be too big to be consumed by these predators.
By contrast the 13 hatchlings zoo staff fondly call 'the Smalls' are now 90-146 grams! They would have hatched at the same time as the new ones but have lived in the Oregon Zoo Conservation Lab where the sun always shines and food is plentiful, a great example of the difference the zoo’s ‘head starting’ program makes.
We also still have four hatchling holdovers from last year (167-206.5 grams) affectionately referred to as 'the Bigs', who hatched in Sept of 2012. Like our newest additions, they also spent their first winter in the muddy ponds of the gorge. They were not large enough for release last summer but will be released this year. The most recent additions will stay at the zoo for another year.We hope to release most of 'the Smalls' and all of 'the Bigs' this summer bringing our total for release this summer to around 17!
Thank you for your support of this vital program.
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