Lincoln Park Zoo's eighteen newly-hatched Ornate Box Turtles have a big future ahead. These quarter-sized turtles are part of a conservation effort between Lincoln Park Zoo and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) that aims to restore the dwindling population of the threatened Ornate Box Turtle across the state. “Our job at Lincoln Park Zoo is to give these little guys the best possible head start. In a sense, we are a turtle nursery,” said General Curator Dave Bernier. “We love to work on these types of conservation projects, especially when an Illinois species that literally lives in our backyard is involved.”
The hatchlings will spend their first year at the zoo’s Kovler Lion House before being released into their natural home -- Illinois sand prairie. But it will take a village: Their zoo turtle team consists of Bernier, zoo reptile experts, and, unexpectedly, the exotic carnivore keepers at the Kovler Lion House. They will live in groups of six surrounded by comfy moss that they can use for nesting, and the climate will be kept warm and balmy – just the way turtles like it. Animal care staff will feed them specially formulated, high nutrient turtle chow.
When the turtles are mature enough to be released, the zoo’s partners from USFWS will help them settle into their new home at Lost Mound Sand Prairie, a Unit of Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge in Savanna, Ill. Located within the former Savanna Army Depot, the area used to be home to many Ornate Box Turtles before habitat loss caused by years of military activities drastically reduced the species’ population.
Read more about the conservation efforst after the jump:
“Our team is going to see to it that these turtles are strong, mature, and ready to thrive in the wild when they leave the zoo next year. In addition to providing a wonderful home for them, we are setting these creatures up for success,” said Bernier.
The Ornate Box Turtle project is one of many examples of collaboration between Lincoln Park Zoo and USFWS. The two organizations have worked together on wildlife recovery programs like endangered massasauga rattlesnakes in Illinois and red wolves in North Carolina.