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Brookfield Zoo Releases Endangered Turtles

Posted By : The Animal Facts Editorial Team

Date: September 3, 2020 11:50 am

Turtle Release Brookfield

Adult Blanding’s turtles at Brookfield Zoo’s rearing pond.

Photo Credit: Jim Schulz/Chicago Zoological Society

After a long wait a group of endangered Blanding’s turtles will be released to the wild after they were bred at Brookfield Zoo. The program has been running for 25 years to reach this release.

The Chicago Zoological Society (CZS), which manages the Brookfield zoo has been a partner of the DuPage Forest Preserve District’s endangered Blanding’s turtle “head-start” program for the past nine years.

Since 2011 they have been receiving hatchling turtles from the wild which are placed in a predator proof rearing pond. These turtles take 14-20 years to reach reproductive maturity. As such 2019 was the first time some of the 25 turtles which now call the pond home were mature and ready to breed. The resulting hatchlings are the ones being released to the wild.

Turtle Release Brookfield

Jeff Bocek, senior animal care specialist for the Chicago Zoological Society (left) and Dan Thompson, ecologist for the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County, releasing two of the 22 Blanding’s turtles to the wild in northwest DuPage County.

Photo Credit: Jim Schulz/Chicago Zoological Society

"The Brookfield Zoo turtles being released this year represent our first captive-bred head-start yearlings," said Dan Thompson, ecologist for the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County. "This is a milestone for the program because most of the captive-bred population are the offspring of deceased adult wild turtles. The offspring we're releasing now are returning genetic information back to the wild population that may have been lost more than 20 years ago."

The blanding’s turtle is endangered across Illinois. They can live for up to 80 years but are increasingly threatened by habitat loss, fragmentation, predation and collection for the illegal wildlife trade.

Blanding’s turtles can be found across the United States from Nebraska to Novia Scotia. Most of the populations live around the Great Lakes.

Turtle Release Brookfield

Blanding’s turtles at Brookfield Zoo getting ready to lay eggs. The eggs will be placed in incubators. The turtles hatched this year will be released in the fall of 2021. Turtles that hatched in 2019 at Brookfield Zoo were released to the wild today, September 2, 2020.

Photo Credit: Jim Schulz/Chicago Zoological Society

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Wild Blanding’s turtles have only a 2% chance of reaching breeding age with 90% of eggs being destroyed in the nest by predators.

To combat their decline the ‘head-start’ program was established in 1996. This sees the Forest Preserve District collect eggs and place them in their facility or one at a partner organization such as Brookfield Zoo. Here they can grow in safety without the threat of predation. At a year old they will be released back to the wild.

“It has been remarkable to provide these turtles with a unique habitat suitable to their survival. The dedication from the animal care staff to this program is now coming to fruition as these 10 year-old turtles are released to the wild,” said Andy Snider, curator of herpetology and aquatics for the Chicago Zoological Society. “We’re proud to be investing resources, time, and effort on this important native species that resides in our own backyards.”

Turtle Release Brookfield

Dan Thompson, ecologist for the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County (left), is assisted by Jeff Bocek, senior animal care specialist for the Chicago Zoological Society, in microchipping a Blanding’s turtle that was released to the wild in DuPage County on September 2.

Photo Credit: Jim Schulz/Chicago Zoological Society

Since the program began 3,000 turtles have received this head-start in life.

Learn more about Brookfield Zoo – Brookfield Zoo

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