Turtle & Tortoise

Critically Injured Hawksbill Turtle Swimming Towards Recovery In Sydney’s Animal Rescue Centre

Sydney, Wednesday 17 February 2021: Small, covered in barnacles and fighting for her life – that was the way a young and critically endangered Hawksbill Turtle was found by SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium staff late last year after receiving a tip-off from the public.

The 4kg turtle, named Avalon after the beach she was seen floating off in NSW, was barely responsive in mid-November when the team picked her up and rushed her back to the aquarium’s Animal Rescue Centre for emergency treatment. Fortunately, she is now on the road to recovery and there are hopes that one day she will swim back into the wild.

Avalon on the road to recovery in January 2021 - 4

“When we first saw her, we didn’t think she would pull through,” said Kellie Carmody, SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium’s on-site Vet Nurse. “She was in quite a critical state and it was really important that we moved quickly so that we would be able to turn her health around in a positive direction.”

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Baby boom for the Bellinger River Snapping Turtle

Taronga’s zoo-based population of the critically endangered Bellinger River Snapping Turtle has received a significant boost with the hatching of 35 turtle babies this year.

Endemic to the Bellinger River on the mid north coast of NSW, this species of short-necked freshwater turtle was almost completely wiped out in 2015 when a novel virus infiltrated the river.

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Bellinger turtle hatchling_2020_4
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A NSW Government emergency response team was formed to investigate and coordinate the rescue of a group of healthy turtles to establish an insurance population. Taronga is working closely with NSW Department of Planning Industry and Environment (DPIE), Western Sydney University and Symbio Wildlife Park to save this species.

DPIE scientists managed to retrieve 16 healthy turtles from the river in 2015, which were later relocated to a special quarantine breeding facility at Taronga Zoo in Sydney.

“This is our fourth successful breeding season of the Bellinger River Snapping Turtle, and we now have nearly 100 of these turtles living at our quarantine facility at Taronga Zoo,” says Adam Skidmore, a Taronga reptile keeper who cares for the species. “The hatchlings are doing really well – eating lots and growing – and we are really happy with their development.”

“During the breeding season we check the nests daily,’ says Adam. “We then remove the eggs, weigh and measure them and place them in our incubator. We then check on them daily and wait for them to hatch, which can take up to 70 days.”

The Bellinger River Snapping Turtle recovery project is coordinated by the NSW’s Government’s Saving our Species (SoS) program. The project aims to release the healthy turtles bred at Taronga back to the Bellinger River. Threatened species officers from SoS have coordinated two release events to date, and are tracking and monitoring the progress of the turtles now living back in the Bellinger River.

“We have so far released 20 snapping turtles back into their natural environment and we are delighted to say their survival rate has been extremely high,” said SoS Threatened Species Officer Gerry McGilvray.

“This species could have been wiped out if not for the rapid response from Saving our Species and its partners. Releasing animals bred in captivity at Taronga represents a big step on the path to securing this species in the wild.”


Zoo Welcomes Four of the "World's Most Beautiful" Tortoises

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The staff at South Africa’s Cango Wildlife Ranch is celebrating the hatching of four critically endangered Radiated Tortoises. Known as one of the world’s most beautiful Tortoise species, Radiated Tortoises are under serious threat due to illegal capture for the pet trade and human consumption in their native Madagascar.

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IMG_0156Photo Credit: Cango Wildlife Ranch

More than nine months ago, the hatchlings’ 78-year-old mother carefully excavated two holes and laid a total of six eggs in the holes. Four of those eggs finally hatched during the month of March.

The tiny hatchlings are receiving extra-special care at the facility. They are kept warm, with room temperatures between 77-82 degrees Fahrenheit. A cozy heat pad for cuddle time is kept at 104 degrees if the babies need a quick warm-up. Reptiles are ectothermic (cold-blooded), so they rely on their environment to maintain appropriate body temperatures.

Mealtime includes green beans, lettuces, hibiscus flowers, and other leaves chopped into bite-sized pieces.

Cango Wildlife Ranch Director Narinda Beukes is the PAAZA (Pan-African Association of Zoos and Aquaria) studbook manager for the Radiated Tortoise. This studbook lists the known parentage of all Radiated Tortoises in accredited African facilities. By using the studbook to pair unrelated animals for breeding, managers can ensure the greatest amount of genetic diversity in the zoo-dwelling population of these imperiled reptiles. 

See more photos of the hatchlings below.

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Allwetterzoo Provides Haven for Endangered Turtles

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This year, Allwetterzoo Münster has successfully bred nearly 200 juvenile turtle species from nearing extinction.

For 15 years, Münster Zoo has been committed to protecting severely threatened species of Asian turtles. Some of the species they have bred this year are among the world's 25 most endangered turtles. Among them is the Zhou's Box Turtle, whose survival has been secured by the assistance of Münster.

The Zhou's Box Turtle (Cuora zhoui) has not been found in nature, and the 140 individuals of the species that are known are currently in human hands. Münster helped increase that number with their 80 hatchlings.

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3_Bild 2_Cuora mccordi SchlupfPhoto Credits: Münster Zoo /Image 1: Zhou's Box Turtle (Cuora zhoui)/ Image 2: Sulawesi Forest Turtle (Leucocephalon yuwonoi)/ Image 3: McCord's Box Turtle (Cuora mccordi)

The same measure of success also applies to the Sulawesi Forest Turtle (Leucocephalon yuwonoi), which is close to extinction. The species is hardly kept in zoos, but there has been an increase of hatchlings due to the help of the International Center for Turtle Conservation (IZS). The IZS was founded as a cooperative project about 15 years ago between Elmar Meier (ZGAP) and Allwetterzoo. The project's success is based primarily on the volunteer work of Ingrid and Elmar Meier who have guided "turtles station" for 15 years. Today, the station is home to numerous endangered Asian turtle species. The goal is to build stable "ex situ" populations of species and, with improved safety conditions in the future and reintroduce the animals in the countries of origin.

The zoo also saw the hatching of ten McCord's Box Turtles (Cuora mccordi), a type that is probably extinct in the wild as less than 1,000 individuals are now only known to be in human hands.

The zoo provided the following chart to illustrate the exact numbers of hatchlings for the year. Allwetterzoo's website may also provide further information: www.allwetterzoo.de

Common (German) Name:

Scientific Name:

Hatchlings:

Asian Box Turtle

Cuora amboinensis kamaroma

50  

Golden-headed box turtle

Cuora aurocapitata

6  

Bourret's Box Turtle

Cuora bourreti

Three-striped box turtle

Cuora cyclornata anamitica

11

Three-striped box turtle

Cuora cyclornata Meieri  

4  

Burmese Box Turtle

Cuora galbinifrons

1  

McCord's Box Turtle

Cuora mccordi

10   

Vietnamese box turtle

C uora picturata  

3   

Three-striped box turtle

Cuora trifasciata luteocephala

8  

Zhou's Box Turtle

Cuora zhoui

7  

Yellow-headed tortoise

Indotestudo elongata

73 

Sulawesi forest turtle

Leucocephalon yuwonoi

2  

Vietnamese pond turtle

Mauremys annamensis  

15   

     

Grand Total:

 

193 


Tiny Sea Turtles Find Safety at Brevard Zoo

Green sea turtle

Brevard Zoo’s Sea Turtle Healing Center is caring for nearly 300 Green and Loggerhead Sea Turtle “washbacks” that were pushed ashore when Hurricane Leslie disrupted their habitat.

“When Sea Turtles hatch, they rely on energy stores from a yolk sac to make the multi-mile swim to offshore weed lines—floating masses of Sargassum seaweed that provide shelter and food,” explained Sea Turtle Program Manager, Shanon Gann. “If the seaweed is disrupted by a storm or strong winds that wash them back to shore, the little turtles do not have the energy to make the long swim again.”

Loggerhead sea turtle

Washbacks in waterPhoto Credits: Brevard Zoo

Healing Center staff and volunteers are caring for the washbacks for a few days until open ocean conditions improve; at that time, they will be transported offshore in a boat and placed in weed lines.

Sea Turtle Preservation Society (STPS) volunteers are transporting the turtles to the Healing Center. Individuals who find washbacks should immediately call STPS at 321-676-1701 or Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission at 1-888-404-3922 for rescue instructions.


Rare Western Pond Turtles at Woodland Park Zoo

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The forty-five Western Pond Turtle hatchlings at Woodland Park Zoo are not only tiny and cute, but also very rare and precious. As part of a collaborative recovery project with Washington state, the turtles were gathered as eggs from nests at a protected site and brought to Woodland Park Zoo where they will receive excellent care until they are released to specified sites next summer.

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4_WPZ-JLoughlin-TurtleHatchlings2019-82Photo Credits: John Loughlin/Woodland Park Zoo

Late each summer, turtles are brought as eggs or hatchlings and given a head start on life at Woodland Park Zoo and Oregon Zoo to improve their chance of survival in the wild. Unlike wild turtles, they are fed at the zoo throughout the winter so that by summer they are nearly as big as 3-year-old turtles that grew up in the wild. Once the turtles reach about 2 ounces—a suitable size to escape the mouths of invasive predatory bullfrogs—they are returned to protected sites and monitored by biologists.

The Western Pond Turtle once ranged from Washington’s Puget Sound lowlands, southward through Western Oregon and California to Baja California. By 1990, their numbers plummeted to only about 150 in two populations in the state of Washington. These last remaining individuals struggled for survival as they battled predation by the non-native bullfrog, disease and habitat loss. A respiratory disease threatened the remaining turtles and biologists could not find evidence confirming hatchling survival.

In 1991, Woodland Park Zoo and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) joined forces to recover Western Pond Turtles by initiating a head start program. In 1993, the state listed the Western Pond Turtle as endangered. In 1999, Oregon Zoo joined the recovery team and, over the years, other nonprofits, government agencies and private partners have contributed to the multi-institutional conservation project. Because of the Western Pond Turtle Recovery Project, more than 1,000 turtles thrive today at protected sites.

Over the last several years, an emerging shell disease affecting 29 to 49 percent of the wild population threatens decades of recovery progress. Known to cause lesions in a turtle’s shell, severe cases can lead to lowered fitness and even death. Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have joined the recovery efforts by collaborating to better understand the disease. The aquarium and university are looking at the disease from a microbial and pathological perspective to better understand its origin and the role environmental factors could play. The goal is to give young turtles a better chance at survival in the wild.

Woodland Park Zoo and Oregon Zoo are working with Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and other partners to address this urgent situation: studying the disease, treating severely diseased turtles, and providing overwinter care for turtles to allow their shells to heal before they are released back into the wild. After the treated turtles are released, WDFW monitors the turtles to determine if they remain healthy and are able to reproduce normally in the wild.

In 27 years, self-sustaining populations have been re-established in two regions of the state: Puget Sound and the Columbia River Gorge. More than 2,100 turtles have been head started and released, and surveys indicate that more than 1,000 of the released turtles have survived and continue to thrive at six sites.

The Western Pond Turtle is one of 19 species that are part of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums’ (AZA) SAFE (Saving Animals From Extinction) initiative, which focuses on the collective expertise within AZA’s accredited institutions and leverages their massive audiences to save species. AZA and its members are convening scientists and stakeholders to identify the threats, develop action plans, raise new resources and engage the public. AZA SAFE harnesses the collective power of all AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums and invites the public to join the effort.


'Half-Shell Hero' Hatchlings Get Head Start in Oregon

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Fifteen baby Western Pond Turtles arrived last week at the Oregon Zoo. Smaller than a nickel, the hatchlings are extremely vulnerable to predators. To give them a fighting chance, the tiny turtles were collected from the wild and will be reared in the Zoo’s turtle conservation lab until they’re big enough to go back to the pond.

“Baby turtles are really small when they hatch, so they’re the perfect size for a lot of animals to eat,” said Shelly Pettit, the Zoo's Senior Keeper for Reptiles and Amphibians. “And the biggest problem they have right now are the invasive, or introduced, bullfrogs — they prey on turtle hatchlings right out of the nest.”

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4_09-27-2018wp-182Photo Credits: Oregon Zoo

The Western Pond Turtle is native to the United States. They are currently classified as “Vulnerable” by the IUCN. Several predators threaten this species, especially the hatchlings, due to their small size and soft shell.

Raccoons, otters, ospreys, coyotes, weasels, and bullfrogs are predatory threats to the Pond Turtle. The American Bullfrog is the largest frog species in North America. It can tip the scales at more than a pound and has been driving the Pond Turtle to the brink of extinction.

Last week, Pettit and her colleagues took charge of 15 Western Pond Turtle hatchlings, collected by the Washington Fish and Wildlife Service from sites in the Columbia Gorge. The zoo is “head-starting” these tiny turtles, caring for them until next spring when they will be large enough to avoid the bullfrogs and have a fighting chance on their own in the wild.

Unlike recovery programs for other endangered species like California Condors or Taylor’s Checkerspot Butterflies — which take place offsite or behind the scenes — this conservation effort is easy to see. Oregon Zoo visitors can watch the small turtles as they grow inside the zoo's Nature Exploration Station.

The turtles at the Zoo will experience summer year-round, with heat lamps and plentiful food, so they don’t go into hibernation.

“We keep these little turtles warm, safe and well-fed in the lab,” Pettit said. “As a result, they grow to about the size of a 3-year-old during the nine months that they stay with us.”

Once the turtles reach about 50 grams (a little more than 2 ounces), they are returned to their natural habitat and monitored for safety.

The Western Pond Turtle, once common from Baja California to the Puget Sound, is listed as an endangered species in Washington and a sensitive species in Oregon. Two decades ago, Western Pond 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 back into the wild.

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

The Western Pond Turtle Recovery Project is a collaborative effort by the Oregon Zoo, Woodland Park Zoo, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bonneville Power Administration, USDA Forest Service and other partners.


Maritime Aquarium Works to Save Baby Loggerhead

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The Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk is caring for a rescued Loggerhead Sea Turtle, during its first year of life, in a new “Sea Turtle Nursery” exhibit. The Aquarium is providing care for the baby in preparation for it being released into the Atlantic Ocean next fall.

The guest Sea Turtle will be living at The Maritime Aquarium as part of a loan program of the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores, whose staff and volunteers inspect turtle nests on beaches to look for “stragglers” (newly hatched turtles) that, for various reasons, didn’t make it out of nests.

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4_Aquar.baby loggerheadPhoto Credits: The Maritime Aquarium

According to staff, these young turtles are rescued and raised for a year at loan institutions, such as The Maritime Aquarium, before being returned to North Carolina the following fall for release into the Gulf Stream.

Tom Frankie, director of Exhibits for The Maritime Aquarium, said, “Aquarium staff repeat the process each October: travel to North Carolina to release a year-old Loggerhead and then bring a new hatchling back to Norwalk.”

The newest hatchling is about five weeks old and only 3.5 inches long. The little Loggerhead will live in a new habitat near the Aquarium’s exhibit that features two large Green Sea Turtles.

Loggerhead Sea Turtles (Caretta caretta) were named for their relatively large heads, which support powerful jaws that allow them to feed on hard-shelled prey, such as whelks and conch. They generally grow to weigh about 300 pounds and are found around the globe in nine “distinct population segments”: five of the populations are considered to be “Endangered,” and the other four, including the Loggerheads off the U.S. Atlantic Coast, are considered “Threatened.” Their biggest threats are from coastal development that destroys nesting habitats and from accidental capture in fishing gear.

“We are very excited to welcome this Loggerhead hatchling to the Aquarium,” Frankie said. “Besides the unique opportunity to give the turtle a safe environment for its first year, the exhibit also provides an important chance to talk about Sea Turtle conservation and to inspire our guests to support conservation efforts.”

The “Sea Turtle Nursery” exhibit opened October 21 and is free with admission to The Maritime Aquarium.

For those unable to visit the Connecticut facility, staff will provide updates on the hatchling’s development and progress via The Maritime Aquarium’s website www.maritimeaquarium.org and Facebook page.


Rare Four-Eyed Turtles Hatch at Tennessee Aquarium

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The Tennessee Aquarium recently celebrated the successful hatching of four endangered turtles.

When it comes to breeding some turtles, making even small changes to their environment can be like trying to introduce new foods to an especially picky eater.

“You don’t want to go changing a lot of stuff, or you may unsettle them and have to wait until next year to try again,” says Tennessee Aquarium Senior Herpetologist Bill Hughes. “With some turtle species, it doesn’t matter. With others, you move them to a different space, and they don’t lay eggs for five years. It throws them off track.”

Because of their fickleness and tendency to be slow to reproduce, every successful turtle-breeding season is significant, especially for imperiled species. At the Aquarium, Hughes recently celebrated the successful hatching of a pair each of endangered Four-eyed Turtles (Sacalia quadriocellata) and critically endangered Beal’s Four-eyed Turtles (Sacalia bealei).

The hatchlings emerged from their shells in the Tennessee Aquarium’s rooftop turtle nursery on June 13 (Four-eyed) and July 2-3 (Beal’s) from eggs that had been incubating at 82 degrees since being laid in April.

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3_Four-eyed Turtle (Sacalia quadriocellata) hatchlings

4_Beal's Four-eyed Turtle (Sacalia bealei) hatchlingsPhoto Credits: Tennessee Aquarium

The Aquarium is home to the largest collection of freshwater turtles in North America. In 2007, it received national attention as the first North American zoo or aquarium to successfully hatch a Beal’s Four-eyed Turtle.

In the last decade, the Aquarium has had continued success in hatching these “four-eyed” species, which are native to Southeast Asia and named due to eye-like markings on the top of their heads. Including the most recent babies, the Aquarium has successfully hatched 15 Beal’s Four-eyed and 37 Four-eyed Turtles since 2007.

In all, just 47 Four-eyed and 24 Beal’s Four-eyed are housed in North American facilities accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). Hatchlings raised at the Tennessee Aquarium have been shared with other caretakers in an effort to shore up their captive population. In 2015, a trio of Beal’s Four-eyed were sent to the Knoxville Zoo — the only other AZA institution to house them — and Four-eyed hatchlings have been shipped to facilities as far as New York, Texas and California.

In light of these turtles’ limited numbers, both in the wild and in captivity, Hughes says he’s largely opted to avoid tampering with his breeding setup for fear of derailing programs that are helping to significantly bolster their overall populations.

“The only thing I’ve really changed is cooling them off more in winter and incubating them a degree or two warmer,” he explains. “They’re all still in their same space they’ve been in for years, which is helping.”

Like many Southeast Asian species, both the Beal’s Four-eyed and Four-eyed Turtle wild populations have been in free fall in recent decades. This decline is thanks to a combination of human-induced threats, including habitat destruction and capture for use as a food source or to supply the pet trade.

According to a 2014 study by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, 50-60 percent of the 335 modern turtle and tortoise species are either extinct or threatened with extinction. That gives them the dubious distinction as the most imperiled major group of vertebrates on the planet.

The Aquarium’s successful rearing of Beal’s Four-eyed and Four-eyed Turtles is crucial to their survivability. Hughes serves as the coordinator of the Species Survival Plan (SSP) for the Four-eyed Turtle since that plan became active in 2012. This year, the Beal’s Four-eyed Turtle became a candidate for the program, and Hughes says the turtle’s conservation status puts it on the fast track to achieving full SSP status in the future.

Even after years of success in raising them, Hughes never tires of seeing new turtles emerge from their eggs. And as you would expect from such dogged creatures of habit, they tend to arrive almost like clockwork, he says.

“They lay at the same time or year, and the eggs hatch at the same time of year, so it’s like a floating holiday that doesn’t float that much. You know when it’s coming,” Hughes says. “It’s still a thrill to see them.”

Photo below by Todd Stailey, Tennessee Aquarium photographer, showing the ocelli, "false eyes", of the Four-eyed Turtle5_FOUREYEDTURTLE