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Western Pond Turtles Rescued by San Diego Zoo Global

Posted By : The Animal Facts Editorial Team

Date: November 14, 2020 5:25 pm

western pond turtle san diego zoo global

A south western pond turtle (Actinemys pallida)

Photo Credit: San Diego Zoo Global

A team of biologists have worked together over the last couple of weeks to find and rescue the last remaining reproductively viable population of south western pond turtles (Actinemys pallida) in the San Gabriel Mountains.

This group of turtles is being rescued from an area which was affected by the bobcat fire in the last 2 months and is currently at risk of mudslides and debris flows which may affect the turtles aquatic habitats.

“Seventeen of the 20 largest California wildfires have occurred over the past 20 years, ”said Rich Burg, environmental program manager, California Department of Fish and Wildlife. “Megafires like these have created devastating ecological conditions even after the fires have been extinguished. In this case, we have a situation where there is little or no vegetation left on the slopes, impacting terrestrial habitat. It is likely that there will be significant sediment flows into the West Fork of the San Gabriel River, which could fill in existing refugia pools and change water chemistry. This can negatively impact the pond turtle population.”

The team included biologists from the U.S. Geological Survey(USGS),California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), U.S. Forest Service (USFS),University of California, Los Angeles(UCLA), Endemic Environmental Services Inc., Citrus College and San Diego Zoo Global.

western pond turtle san diego zoo global
western pond turtle san diego zoo global

Left: Searching the river for turtles Right: A rescuer with a western pond turtle

Photo Credit: San Diego Zoo Global

Southwestern pond turtles face a range of threats outside of fires mainly from introduced predators including crayfish, bullfrogs, African-clawed frogs and largemouth bass, which compete for natural resources and often consume the tiny, quarter-sized turtle hatchlings.

“We have become increasingly concerned over the status of our native pond turtles,“ said Ann Berkeley, U.S. Forest Service. “They are a small species with a great deal of charm, and their presence in our local creeks is important to maintaining the biodiversity in small waterways that are found throughout our Southern California Mountains.”

Over the two week rescue mission the team found eight southwestern pond turtles. “This is not the first such effort, and almost certainly will not be the last,” said Brad Shaffer, UCLA distinguished professor and director of the La Kretz Center for California Conservation Science. “These turtles will also be part of a range-wide genomic analysis of variation across the species that we are conducting with the CDFW and USGS to better understand and conserve the population, which is the last known of this species in the San Gabriel River.”

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The turtles which were rescued will be relocated to San Diego Zoo Global. Here they will be cared for until their habitat is deemed safe following an assessment. This will likely occur after the rainy season.

“San Diego Zoo Global and other California zoos have been working to head start western pond turtles for a number of years,” said Robert Fisher, supervisory research biologist with the USGS. “Ten years ago, we collected gravid female pond turtles from the Sweetwater River at the Sycuan Peak Ecological Reserve and brought them to the San Diego Zoo to lay their eggs. The offspring were head started at the Zoo, then released back into the reserve, and are doing well.”

“Our role as conservationists is to provide refuge and care for wildlife in trouble,” said Kim Gray, curator of herpetology and ichthyology, San Diego Zoo Global. “We are happy to make a home for these pond turtles until their home in the mountains can be made safe for them and their offspring.”

Learn more about San Diego Zoo Global on their website – San Diego Zoo Global

western pond turtle san diego zoo global

A rescuer with a western pond turtle

Photo Credit: San Diego Zoo Global

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