Oregon Zoo keepers return a turtle to the wild
It’s Turtle Season!!! ... Turtle comings and goings from Oregon Zoo's Conservation Lab
The group of young western pond turtles that Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife field biologists delivered to us in May of 2012 really got big fast and were recently returned to spend the rest of their lives in the wild.
GlobalGiving donors might remember that instead of collecting these baby turtles right after hatching in September 2011, biologists allowed these hatchlings to spend their first winter as they naturally would - hiding in the mud and dirt in and around the ponds in the Columbia River Gorge. When these young turtles began to emerge from their hiding places in early May of 2012, biologists collected them so they wouldn’t be eaten by invasive predators. When collected, these 17 little guys were still about the same size as they were when they had hatched (~5-10 grams) since they had not been eating during their winter hibernation.
Biologists brought these hatchlings to the safety of the Oregon Zoo Conservation Lab last May for “head starting” – a chance to grow too big to be eaten by non-native bullfrogs and bass. Within four months, these 17 were over 100 grams! They were joined by 21 freshly-hatched turtles in September that brought our winter count to 38. The size difference between the May and September arrivals was obvious at first but now some of last fall’s hatchlings have grown larger than their older cousins in our Lab.
This May, those hatchlings were joined by four more collected in the Gorge. Once again, these were animals that had wintered out in the wild. As of this report, they are still VERY small turtles! If you come by the Lab during the month of August, you can see these little guys in the Conservation Lab window. These four will be with us until next spring.
On June 21st, field biologists released a group of our largest 27 youngsters into the same ponds in Washington where they were collected last May. All reports are that they are thriving in the wild! We plan to release another batch of turtles next month. Before we do, however, they will be given some identifying marks on their carapaces (shells) as well as transponder chips implanted by our veterinary staff. These provide us with a means of permanently identifying head-started turtles so that we can track their progress in the wild.
By September, we will have a new batch of freshly-hatched western pond turtle babies in our warm Conservation Lab in the Cascades building basking under the sun lamps, swimming in heated pools and enjoying a great variety of food items.
With your help, our turtle project continues to support the recovery of this imperiled species here in the Pacific Northwest and is a great example of how the Oregon Zoo is fulfilling our mission to inspire our community to create a better future for wildlife. Since 1991, more than 1,500 western pond turtles have been raised and released by zoos in Portland and Seattle and the turtle population in the Columbia River Gorge has increased from 150 to 1,500.
If you come by the Oregon Zoo Conservation Lab to check on their progress, please be sure to introduce yourself as a GlobalGiving fan of turtles!