Conservationists care for 23 tiny pond turtles At the Oregon Zoo

Conservationists care for 23 tiny pond turtles At the Oregon Zoo



The Oregon Zoo’s conservation lab is running on turtle power this month as 23 tiny northwestern pond turtles settle into their new home.

Last month, zoo caregivers helped Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife staff retrieve the hatchlings from sites in the Columbia Gorge. The zoo is “head-starting” the turtles, caring for them until next spring when they will be large enough to have a fighting chance on their own in the wild.

“The turtle hatchlings are really tiny, which makes them extremely vulnerable to predators,” said Shelly Pettit, who oversees the zoo’s pond turtle recovery efforts. “The biggest threat they face in the wild is bullfrogs, which can eat turtle hatchlings right out of the nest.”

The American bullfrog, native to the eastern United States but considered invasive here, 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.

Unlike the zoo’s recovery efforts for other endangered species like California condors or northern leopard frogs — which take place offsite or behind the scenes — this conservation program is easy to see. Visitors can watch the small turtles as they grow inside the zoo’s Nature Exploration Station.

The northwestern pond turtle, also known as the western pond turtle, is listed as an endangered species in Washington and a sensitive species in Oregon. Two decades ago, the turtles were on the verge of completely dying out in Washington, with fewer than 100 left in the state. Since then, more than 1,500 zoo-head-started turtles have been released.

“We’re at a critical point with this species,” said Pettit. “We really have to help grow their population numbers if we’re going to save them in time.”


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