Zoo, Partners Return Turtles to Wild

A group of northwestern pond turtles recently graduated from the Oregon Zoo's turtle lab and were released back into the Columbia River Gorge. These endangered reptiles were nurtured for up to a year at the zoo's conservation lab as part of a regional recovery project.

During their time at the lab, they were exposed to simulated summer conditions, allowing them to grow quickly and reach the size of adolescent turtles in just nine months. This gives them a better chance of survival in the wild. To prepare the turtles for life outdoors, keepers gradually acclimate them to changing temperatures.

Once they reach a weight of about 50 grams, they are returned to the Columbia River Gorge and monitored for their safety. Studies have shown that around 95% of the turtles released in the Gorge annually survive, thanks to their larger size, which makes them less susceptible to predators like the invasive American bullfrog.

The northwestern pond turtle is an endangered species in Washington and a sensitive species in Oregon. Two decades ago, their population was dangerously low in Washington, with less than 100 individuals remaining. However, thanks to the efforts of organizations like the Oregon Zoo, over 1,600 zoo-head-started turtles have been released, helping to save the species from extinction. It is crucial to continue increasing the population numbers of these turtles to ensure their survival.

The Western Pond Turtle Recovery Project is a collaborative effort among various organizations, including the Oregon Zoo, Woodland Park Zoo, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bonneville Power Administration, and U.S. Forest Service.

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