Turtle & Tortoise

Zoo Awash With Hurricane-Stranded Baby Turtles

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Tossed by the violent winds and powerful waves of two Atlantic hurricanes, hundreds of tiny Sea Turtles have been rescued by Florida’s Brevard Zoo – and more wash ashore every day.

The little Loggerhead, Green, and Hawksbill Turtles would normally be living in their nursery habitat on masses of seaweed in the open ocean.  But waves generated by hurricanes Matthew and Nicole pushed the Turtles, along with seaweed and tons of discarded plastic, ashore on Florida’s east coast.

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Photo Credit:  Brevard Zoo

The Turtles, known as “washbacks” because they’ve washed back onto the shore, are retrieved by volunteers from the Sea Turtle Preservation Society and taken to the zoo’s Sea Turtle Healing Center.  The young Turtles are typically lethargic and weak upon arrival, but the zoo is committed to nursing them back to health.  The zoo staff has observed that many of the turtles have swallowed tiny bits of plastic and foreign debris, which obstructs their digestive systems and contributes to their weakened state.  About a dozen young Turtles have died, probably as a result of ingesting plastic, according to Elliot Zurulnik, Brevard Zoo Communications Manager.

The zoo plans to release as many of the young turtles as possible, but will only do so when an individual is eating well, actively swimming, and able to dive underwater.

Seven species of Sea Turtles are found in oceans worldwide, and all are under threat.  Hawksbill Turtles are Critically Endangered, Green Turtles are Endangered, and Loggerhead Turtles are listed as Vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.  Threats to Sea Turtles include loss of beach nesting habitat, bycatch from improper fishing operations, poaching for eggs and meat, marine debris, and climate change. 

See more photos below.

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Zoo Gives Baby Snappers a Head Start

20160922_123518Even powerful creatures like Alligator Snapping Turtles need a little help sometimes – that’s why the Nashville Zoo is headstarting 30 young snappers for eventual release into Tennessee’s waterways. 

The hatchlings came to Nashville from the Tishomingo National Fish Hatchery in Oklahoma and are now being cared for behind-the-scenes at the zoo.  The hatchlings will remain at the zoo for three years, after which they will be released into the wild as part of a statewide program to boost populations of Alligator Snapping Turtles.

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20160929_112135Photo Credit:  Katie Gregory

Headstarting programs like this can help bring species back from the brink.  Female Alligator Snapping Turtles don’t produce large quantities of eggs, and many eggs laid in the wild are lost to predation.  By collecting eggs from wild females, raising hatchlings in a protected environment, and releasing juveniles once they have attained a larger size, biologists can boost the number of surviving young. 

With their expertise at caring for animals in aquariums and controlled environments, zoos are recognized as vital partners in the fight to save native species.   

After the Turtles’ release, zoo staff will monitor the young to determine the success of the headstarting program. 

Weighing 50-100 pounds as adults, Alligator Snapping Turtles are almost prehistoric in appearance.  They spend nearly all of their life in water, feeding on fish and other aquatic animals.  To lure prey within striking distance, these Turtles sit with mouths open to reveal a small, pink, worm-like appendage in the back of the mouth.  Once the prey swims close enough, the Turtle clamps down on it with powerful jaws.

Once inhabiting most of the rivers in the Mississippi watershed, Alligator Snapping Turtles (not to be confused with Common Snapping Turtles, which are abundant in waterways across the region) were decimated in the 1960s and 70s by commercial harvesting for their meat.  Today, habitat loss, egg predation, and the high rate of hatchling predation threaten the species.

 


Endangered Blanding’s Turtles Released in Canada

1_Blanding's Turtles (June 2016) _ credit Heike Reuse (2)

On June 21, the Toronto Zoo, Parks Canada and the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) reintroduced 36 baby Blanding's Turtles to a wetland that will be part of Rouge National Urban Park in the Greater Toronto Area (Canada’s first national urban park).

This is the third year Blanding’s Turtles have been released in the park. In June 2015, the same group of partners collaborated on the release of 21 baby Blanding’s Turtles in the Rouge and in June 2014, 10 baby turtles were released.

The long-lived species, with a life span of up to 80 years, has inhabited the Rouge Valley for thousands of years, though prior to 2014 its future was uncertain, with as few as six Blanding’s Turtles remaining.

2_Blanding's Turtles (June 2016) _ credit Heike Reuse (4)

3_Blanding's Turtles (June 2016) _ credit Heike Reuse (1)

4_Blanding's Turtles (June 2016) _ credit Heike Reuse (5)Photo Credits: Heike Reuse 

“Blanding’s Turtles are a flagship species representing a group of animals facing a variety of threats," said Dr. Andrew Lentini, Curator of Reptiles and Amphibians, Toronto Zoo. "Seven of eight turtle species in Ontario are at risk and need our help. All Canadians can learn how to help turtles by visiting Toronto Zoo’s Adopt-A-Pond website and by reporting sighting to Toronto Zoo’s Ontario Turtle Tally.”

In February 2016, Minister of the Environment and Climate Change, and Minister responsible for Parks Canada Catherine McKenna announced that Parks Canada would be making a $150,000 contribution to the Toronto Zoo to support the Blanding’s head start program in the Rouge.

“Blanding's Turtles are an important indicator of a healthy park,” said Pam Veinotte, Parks Canada's Superintendent responsible for Rouge National Urban Park. "Parks Canada is dedicated to re-establishing a healthy, local population of this threatened turtle species in Rouge National Urban Park now and for future generations, and we are thankful for the opportunity to collaborate with the Toronto Zoo and other wonderful partners to conserve and restore threatened species in Canada's first national urban park.”

The turtle eggs were collected from a stable source population in southern Ontario in 2014 and have been raised in a controlled environment at the Toronto Zoo over the last two years. The University of Toronto Scarborough has joined this head-starting project and is assisting with long-term monitoring of the released turtles. Parks Canada, the TRCA and the Toronto Zoo believe that this type of head starting and reintroduction of the turtles, along with long-term monitoring and ongoing habitat restoration, are keys to the animal’s survival in the future Rouge National Urban Park.

The local public can help protect the turtles by avoiding their nesting areas and by contacting authorities if they observe harmful behavior toward turtles or suspicious behavior in their habitat. The location of the wetland housing the reintroduced turtles will not be disclosed at this time to help minimize disturbances and give the animals the best chance of surviving.

The Toronto Zoo and TRCA began collecting information on and monitoring Blanding’s Turtles in the Rouge Valley in 2005. Environment Canada and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry provided funding, permits and in-kind support for Blanding’s Turtle monitoring in the Rouge Valley in previous years. With the area slated to become Canada’s first national urban park, Parks Canada has come on board and will continue to work on a long-term turtle monitoring program.

Earth Rangers, an environmental conservation organization focused on engaging youth in the protection of nature, also provided support for the project by building a facility to house the turtle eggs and babies at the Toronto Zoo.

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Teeny Turtles Hatch At Sacramento Zoo

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It’s been a busy hatching season for Western Pond Turtles at the Sacramento Zoo.  So far, seven eggs have been collected from the zoo’s Turtles and placed in an incubator until they hatch after 13 to 17 weeks.

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Photo Credit:  Sacramento Zoo

The tiny hatchlings weigh only five grams at hatching – about the same as five paper clips.  They’ll stay indoors under zoo keepers’ care until they are large enough to be released into lake exhibits within the zoo. 

The Sacramento Zoo is home to one of the largest populations of Western Pond Turtles housed within a zoo.  As Turtles are found in the zoo’s lakes, they are weighed and measured.  This data set, compiled over the last two decades, adds to the body of knowledge on growth information for this species.  Western Pond Turtles in zoos are managed by the AZA Species Survival Plan to maintain genetic diversity. 

In the wild, Western Pond Turtles are native to the western coast of North America, from Canada to Baja California, living in marshes, ponds, and wetlands, where they often bask on logs and boulders.  These Turtles have disappeared from much of the northern segment of their range because wetlands have been converted for agricultural use. As a result, Turtle populations have become fragmented.  The species is listed as Vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

 


Tiny Rescued Sea Turtle Arrives at Temporary Home

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A new Loggerhead Sea Turtle hatchling recently splashed into his new temporary home in the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Open Sea gallery! The tiny turtle will stay at the aquarium for one to two years, while aquarists carefully rear it to a larger size and prepare it for release back into the ocean.

The North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores loans rescued turtles to aquariums around the country as a way to share the story of this endangered species, while the youngsters grow large enough for release. When they are ready, the turtles are flown back to North Carolina for release into their native waters.

In the wild, Loggerheads migrate long distances, so they’re particularly vulnerable to accidental capture by commercial fisheries. The turtles can become caught in shrimp trawler nets or entangled in long-lines.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium recently released its third Loggerhead back into the Atlantic, alongside other rescued reptiles from U.S. zoos and aquariums. To stay updated on the journey of the newly released juvenile loggerhead, who has logged nearly 600 miles in just over a week, follow #TravelingTurtle on Twitter and Instagram! And check out Monterey Bay Aquarium's tumblr to learn how aquariums and zoos across the country are working together to help this endangered species: http://montereybayaquarium.tumblr.com/post/131508274553/a-turtles-journey-home

Photo and Video Courtesy: Monterey Bay Aquarium

Information about the Sea Turtle Program from North Carolina Aquariums:

Coastal North Carolina is a nesting site for Loggerhead Sea Turtles (Caretta caretta), Green Sea Turtles (Chelonia mydas) and occasionally Leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea) and Kemp’s Ridley (Lepidochelys kempii) Sea Turtles.

Sea Turtles may live for several decades in the open oceans but their lives are most at risk during the first few minutes after they emerge from the nest. Nests deposited on the beach from May through August usually hatch at night from July through October. Hatchlings scramble quickly out of the nest and toward the ocean in a race for life against predators, disorienting light sources and other obstacles.

The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission (WRC) oversees the monitoring of nests and hatchlings through an extensive network of volunteers and institutions, including the North Carolina Aquariums. Sometimes hatchlings are too weak to get to the ocean on their own or are found far from the ocean if they’ve become disoriented. These hatchlings are brought to the Aquariums for a brief period of care prior to being released into the wild. Hatchlings recuperate in a carefully controlled environment, where Aquarists ensure that the animals eat and demonstrate healthy activity such as diving.

Most of these post-crawl hatchlings are released immediately directly into the Gulf Stream offshore. Although detailed movements of juvenile Sea Turtles are not well known, it has been determined that they likely spend their first 15 to 20 years feeding and growing in warmer waters, such as the Gulf Stream, before they reach sexual maturity. It is estimated that one in 1,000 turtles will reach this stage.

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Threatened Ornate Box Turtles Hatch in Chicago

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The last of 26 Ornate Box Turtles hatched at Lincoln Park Zoo and Brookfield Zoo, in Chicago, this past week, as part of an effort to restore native populations in Western Illinois. The hatchlings come from nine different clutches provided by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS).

“Each year we learn more about Ornate Box Turtles and their preferred temperature for incubation and what conditions best enable them to grow before returning to their native habitat,” said Diane Mulkerin, curator for Lincoln Park Zoo. “The collaboration among conservation organizations enables us to take the head-start program one step further by increasing the number of turtles we re-introduce each year.”

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4_Ornate Box Turtle-4 (©Chicago Zoological Society)Photo Credits: CZS/Brookfield/Chicago Zoological Society (Images: 1 - 6);Lincoln Park Zoo/Christopher Bijalba (Images: 7 - 12)The turtles will remain at their respective zoos for the next several months where they can thrive without the threat of predation or disease. Once the animals grow both in size and strength, they will be re-introduced into sand prairies protected by the Upper Mississippi National Wildlife and Fish Refuge in Savannah, Illinois.

“We’re thrilled to be working with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and Lincoln Park Zoo on this hatch and head-start program for the Illinois state-listed threatened Ornate Box Turtle,” said Andy Snider, curator of herps and aquatics for the Chicago Zoological Society, which operates Brookfield Zoo. “Assisting in cooperative conservation projects for local species, such as this, is one of many ways zoos can contribute to the overall health and welfare of wild populations.”

The Ornate Box Turtle (Terrapene ornata ornata) is one of only two terrestrial species of turtles native to the Great Plains of the United States. It is one of the two different subspecies of Terrapene ornata, and it is the state reptile of Kansas.

The Ornate Box Turtle is listed as “Threatened” in the state of Illinois, and it is a protected species in six Midwestern states: Colorado, Iowa, Indiana, Nebraska, Kansas, and Wisconsin. The IUCN Red List classifies the species as “Near Threatened”.

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Tiny Endangered Turtles Hatch at Tennessee Aquarium

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In a sunny space directly under one of the Tennessee Aquarium’s tallest glass peaks, senior herpetologist Bill Hughes is caring for a special group of Southeast Asian turtles. The aquarium's ten adult Beal’s-eyed Turtlesare members of a vanishing species.

This past summer, five more Beal’s-eyed Turtles hatched, a significant conservation milestone for this species.

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Photo credits: Tennessee Aquarium

The aquarium's first Beal's-eye Turtle, hatched in 2007, made big headlines because it was also the first of its species known to hatch in a North American zoo or aquarium. Other hatchlings followed at the aquarium in 2008 and 2013. In the past two years, they have had eight more hatchlings - three in 2014 and the five tiny turtles that appeared this summer.

This species has been listed as Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) since 2000. 

“Their numbers have continued to rapidly decline over the past 15 years,” said Hughes. “The current recommendation is to update their status to Critically Endangered.” 

Such a move would officially mean that these animals face an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild in the near future. So adding even a few individuals to the global population is a big step toward ensuring this species does not vanish forever.

Continue reading after the fold.

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Little Giants Come Out Of Their Shells

Baby Malaysian Giant Pond Turtle-0005-6886Four rare Turtles have come out of their shells at the Houston Zoo!  These Malaysian Giant Pond Turtles are not often seen in zoos due to their large size and low rate of reproduction in captivity.

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Baby Malaysian Giant Pond Turtle-0004-6878Photo Credit:  Stephanie Adams/Houston Zoo

Getting out of a shell can be tough work but baby turtles have a special adaptation on their snout: an egg tooth. Also called a caruncle, the egg tooth is a temporary structure that is used to cut through the egg membrane and break through the shell.  Once there is a hole in the egg, the turtle can break out.

The zoo’s journey to this remarkable hatching began when they acquired a group of juvenile Malaysian Giant Pond Turtles in 2002.  The Turtles have reached maturity, and these hatchlings are the result.

At the Houston Zoo, this species inhabits the moat surrounding the Orangutan exhibit, but the Turtles are very secretive and not often seen.  They feed on fish, plants, and fruits.

Malaysian Giant Pond Turtles are found in rivers and lakes on the Malay Peninsula, Borneo, and Sumatra.  Adults can reach almost three feet in length and can weigh over 100 pounds. Listed as Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, Malaysian Giant Pond Turtles are heavily exploited for their meat, and populations are in decline throughout their native range.

See more photos of the Turtles below.

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Baby Tortoise Will Grow Up Flat As a Pancake

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A baby Tortoise hatched on April 4 at the Como Zoo will grow up to be as flat as a pancake – but that’s exactly what this species, called the Pancake Tortoise, is supposed to be.

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Pancake quarterPhoto Credit:  Como Zoo

In their native homes of Kenya and Tanzania, Pancake Tortoises’ flat shells allow them to escape predators by squeezing into tight crevices among rocks.  Their shells are extra flexible, and these reptiles are remarkably good climbers.  The combination of flexibility, speed, and agility is key to Pancake Tortoises’ survival. 

Como Zoo’s little hatchling began as an egg laid in October 2014.  Zoo staff incubated the egg for 170 days at 88 degrees Fahrenheit in hopes of producing a female because Pancake Tortoise gender is determined by incubation temperature. Now the size of a golf ball, the hatchling will grow to about six inches in length and weigh about one pound as an adult. This is the first Pancake Tortoise to hatch at the Como Zoo.

Though they are protected in both Kenya and Tanzania, Pancake Tortoises are listed as Vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature due to collection for the pet trade and loss of native habitat to agricultural use.  The Como Zoo participates in the Species Survival Plan for Pancake Tortoises to sustain a genetically viable zoo population.  


Baby Turtles Saved From Illegal Trafficking

10872821_10152902873899178_5903419042370506900_oEight baby Turtles confiscated from wildlife traffickers are safe in their new home at the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium.

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10429310_10152902875009178_7858583633860942406_nPhoto Credit:  National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium

The young Wood, Blanding’s, and Loggerhead Musk Turtles are part of a shipment of more than 200 hatchlings intercepted by the United States Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS).  The Turtles were bound for export to China, where they would feed the demand for Turtle meat, exotic pets, and Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Thousands of Turtles and Tortoises are sold illegally every day in markets throughout China and Southeast Asia.  The International Union for Conservation of Nature, or IUCN, states that up to 50 percent of Asian Turtle species are now Endangered, and that number is rising.  In fact, Tortoises and freshwater Turtles are the most threatened of any major group of terrestrial (land-dwelling) vertebrates – more than mammals, birds, or amphibians.

Visit the USFWS website to learn more about how illegal wildlife trafficking threatens species around the globe.