Western Pond Turtles are making a comeback, and these week-old hatchlings at the Oregon Zoo are destined to aid in the species’ recovery.
For more than two decades the Oregon Zoo has been working to restore this species to its historic range, which once extended from Baja California to Puget Sound. As a result, Western Pond Turtle (Actinemys marmorata) numbers are on the rise. This species, which can live up to 70 years, has been profoundly affected by the construction of river dams, invasive plants, predation, and draining of wetlands.
In 1990, the Western Pond Turtle “head-starting” project was initiated, which accelerates turtles’ natural growth rates, and thus their ability to withstand predation. The Oregon Zoo collaborates with Woodland Park Zoo and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. Other partners include Bonneville Power Administration and the U.S. Forest Service.
Each spring, scientists count, trap, mark and fit transmitters on adult females in the wild. In summer, the females are monitored and nest sites are identified. Hatchlings are collected in the fall to be cared for at the zoo. Juveniles, some of whom are fitted with transmitters, are returned to the wild the following spring.
The first turtles released in 1991 in the Columbia River Gorge are reproducing and laying eggs in the wild. Over the past two decades, approximately 1,500 turtles have been released, and with good results: the gorge turtle population ranged from a low of 150 in 1990 to approximately 1,500 in 2011. Scientists tracking them estimate that 95 percent of the turtles released to sites in the Columbia River Gorge have survived.