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.
Nov 14, 2016

Western Pond Turtles Conservation Report Fall 2016

Copyright Oregon Zoo / photo by Kathy Street
Copyright Oregon Zoo / photo by Kathy Street
For seventh time in five years, Oregon Zoo earns kudos at national zoo conference

The Oregon Zoo drew praise from colleagues at zoos and aquariums across the continent this Fall, earning another prestigious award from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums — its seventh such honor over the past five years.

This year, the Oregon Zoo and its conservation partners at Seattle's Woodland Park Zoo took top honors in the North American Conservation Awards category for the collaborative western pond turtle recovery project. The award recognizes "exceptional efforts toward regional habitat preservation, species restoration and support of biodiversity."

In 1990, only two pond turtle sites were left in Washington. Today, six populations have been established with two in Puget Sound and four in the Columbia River Gorge. More than 1,800 turtles have been head-started and released to these sites. Studies have revealed that an estimated 95 percent of turtles released in the Columbia River Gorge survived their first year.

"We are deeply honored," said Dr. Don Moore, Oregon Zoo director. "These awards are the highest distinction in the zoo community. They represent the respect shown for the Oregon Zoo by our peers from around the world."

Since 2012, the Oregon Zoo has been recognized with seven of the association's major annual awards: four for conservation work on behalf of imperiled Northwest species, one for environmental efforts in the zoo's day-to-day operations, and two for marketing excellence.

"Earning that many awards over the span of five years is quite an accomplishment," said AZA interim president and CEO Kris Vehrs. "Oregonians can be very proud of their zoo — it's one of the top zoos in North America."

The Western Pond Turtle Recovery Project is 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, USDA Forest Service and other partners. To learn more, visit www.oregonzoo.org/turtles.

Aug 17, 2016

Western Pond Turtle Summer 2016 Conservation Report

Bullfrogs look forward to this time of year the way some locals anticipate Hood strawberry season. It's the time when baby western pond turtles in the Columbia River Gorge emerge from months of dormancy and begin swimming about — making an ideal "fun size" snack for the voracious, non-native American bullfrog.

"When you're as small as these guys are, you're the perfect size for a lot of animals to eat," said Oregon Zoo keeper Michelle Schireman. "And the biggest problem they have right now are the invasive, or introduced, bullfrogs — they just scoop them up like M&M's."

Native to the eastern United States — but considered an invasive species here — the American bullfrog is the largest frog species on the continent. It can tip the scales at more than a pound and has been driving pond turtles and a host of other small, vulnerable aquatic species to the brink of extinction.

Last week, Schireman and her colleagues took charge of 20 western pond turtle hatchlings, collected by the Washington Fish and Wildlife Service from sites in the Columbia Gorge. The zoo is "head-starting" these tiny turtles, caring for them until next spring when they will be large enough to avoid the bullfrogs and have a fighting chance on their own in the wild.

Unlike recovery programs for other endangered species like California condors or Taylor's checkerspot butterflies — which take place offsite or behind the scenes — this conservation effort can be seen by zoo visitors. The turtle conservation lab is in the Cascade Stream and Pond portion of the zoo's Great Northwest section.

The turtles experience summer year-round, with heat lamps and plentiful food, so they don't go into dormancy. "Life's pretty easy here in the lab if you're a little pond turtle," Schireman said. "As a result, they grow to about the size of a 3-year-old during the nine months that they stay with us."

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

The western pond turtle, once common from Baja California to the Puget Sound, is listed as an endangered species in Washington and a sensitive species in Oregon. The species is currently under USFW review to determine whether it will be given federal protection under the Endangered Species Act. 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.

"We're at a critical point with this species," Schireman said. "We really have to grow them up in their population numbers if we're going to save them in time."

There have been some encouraging signs. In one study, scientists estimated that 95 percent of turtles released back to sites in the Columbia Gorge survive annually, and today nearly 1,000 turtles range across six ponds in the Columbia Gorge.

Global Giving donors are key partners in the fight to save this species. Thank you!

May 19, 2016

Western Pond Turtles Conservation Update

Western Pond Turtle Release
Western Pond Turtle Release

More than 20 western pond turtles returned to their home ponds in the Columbia River Gorge this morning — the latest release in a 25-year collaboration aimed at helping this yellow-speckled local reptile survive.

For 14 of these turtles, reared at the Oregon Zoo, an eight-month stretch of warm days and nights has just drawn to an end. Since last September, the turtles basked in the warmth and light of a simulated summer in the zoo’s conservation lab, growing large enough to have a fighting chance in the wild.

But this year, there were nine additional turtles — and some new helping hands — at the release site.

In addition to participating in the head-start program, the zoo has been treating adult turtles from the Gorge affected by a severe shell disease. Conservation technicians from Larch Corrections Center support that veterinary work, serving as an infirmary for the recovering reptiles, and providing daily care, observation and minor treatments.

Nine of these turtles were deemed fit for return to the Gorge, and for the first time, caregivers from Larch were able to participate in the release.

“We have a running relationship with Larch, but this is the first time they have been part of the final step of turtle recovery,” according to Dr. David Shepherdson, Oregon Zoo deputy conservation director.

Larch, a minimum-security prison in Vancouver, Wash., with the motto “Doing Good While Doing Time,” is part of the Sustainability in Prisons Project — a partnership between the Washington Department of Corrections and The Evergreen State College. Larch also grows narrow-leaf plantain — a food source for the federally endangered Taylor’s checkerspot butterflies raised at the Oregon Zoo.

“Sustainability in Prisons brings together people who haven’t felt included in the conservation movement before,” said Joslyn Trivett, the project’s national network manager. “It makes conservation the business of a wider group.”

Western pond turtle work is a particularly noble cause. The species — one of only two native turtles in the Pacific Northwest — has lost significant ground over the past two decades. Once common from Mexico all the way up to Vancouver, B.C. (where it’s now extinct), these turtles are considered endangered in Washington and declining in Oregon and California.

In one study, scientists estimated that 95 percent of the head-started turtles released back to sites in the Columbia Gorge survive annually, and today nearly a thousand of the turtles range across six ponds in the Columbia Gorge.

Thank you for your support of this fight against extinction. 

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