Lincoln Park Zoo released a group of ornate box turtles into the wild this week. True to type slow and steady won the race with the turtles taking their time reaching cover.
These turtles form a part of the “head start” program which the zoo collaborates with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to carry out. Each year turtles living in areas where the population is stable are collected and the zoo hatches them. Then they spend a year eating up a storm and growing big and strong behind the scenes of the zoo’s Kovler lion house. This means they have the best chance of survival when they are released the next year.
This method of raising the turtles protects them from predation by coyotes, snakes and racoons. Upon release the turtles are about the size of an average 5 year old turtle which means they are safe from predation.
Before release each turtle is fitted with a GPS tracker which means they can be found by researchers.
“Tracking the turtles is an essential part of this population restoration effort,” explained Diane Mulkerin, Lincoln Park Zoo curator. “The GPS signal enables researchers to find not only the turtles, but their nests, so nests can be protected and eggs can be collected for head starting.”
This year the zoo released 11 turtles into the Thomson Sand Prairie and Lost Mountain Sand Prairie. 49 turtles have now been released into the wild by the zoo. Monitoring of the turtles will be carried out by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service while the young turtles settle in. The goal is that 100 turtles will be established at the site by 2020.
This species is endangered due to fragmentation of the prairie habitat as it is being converted for human usage.
Closer to home the zoo also work to head start smooth green snakes and meadow jumping mice.
Photo Credit: Lincoln Park Zoo