Bay Area Zoos & Sonoma State University to Release Western Pond Turtles

The Oakland Zoo will release 44 western or Pacific pond turtles today as part of a “Headstart” program for the imperiled aquatic chelonians, which once ranged from Baja, California to Washington state.

National Geographic Archives

As part of a 5 year collaborative surrogate rearing program, zoo keepers at the San Francisco and Oakland zoos have worked with herpetologists at Sonoma State University to help augment wild populations of this vanishing species of freshwater turtle.  Although they may be locally common in some parts of their current range, the species is recognized as vulnerable by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

Head Start projects for chelonian conservation programs increase the chance of survival of these aquatic reptilians through surrogate rearing programs, because in the case of ectotherms, captivity encourages faster growth and ultimately larger sizes of juvenile turtles selected for release into the wild. The larger carapace of the captive reared juvenile turtles discourages predation on the animals. Wild born and reared conspecifics are smaller and more vulnerable to predation.

Typically, the eggs of wild turtles were collected and brought back to these regional West Coast zoos to be incubated, but this year the turtle eggs were incubated in the field, which allowed biologists to collect data on natural environmental conditions, influencing the gender of the offspring. The hatchlings were then brought to the Zoo where they were reared by foster parents—zoo keepers —trained in herpetoculture and the husbandry of herpetofauna.

Together the institutions have been studying the reproductive biology of the Pacific pond turtle, threats to the species and other aspects of their conservation and biology post-release, like foraging ecology.

The major threats to the Pacific pond turtle are habitat loss and degradation, disease, and competition with the invasive red-eared slider, another species of Emydid turtle.

The Western Pond Turtle Recovery Project began at Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo.

For more information, visit this link.


Meet the Author
With training in wildlife ecology, conservation medicine and comparative psychology, Dr. Schaul's contributions to Nat Geo Voices have covered a range of environmental and social topics. He draws particular attention to the plight of imperiled species highlighting issues at the juncture or nexus of sorta situ wildlife conservation and applied animal welfare. Sorta situ conservation practices are comprised of scientific management and stewardship of animal populations ex situ (in captivity / 'in human care') and in situ (free-ranging / 'in nature'). He also has a background in behavior management and training of companion animals and captive wildlife, as well as conservation marketing and digital publicity. Jordan has shared interviews with colleagues and public figures, as well as editorial news content. In addition, he has posted narratives describing his own work, which include the following examples: • Restoration of wood bison to the Interior of Alaska while (While Animal Curator at Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center and courtesy professor at the University of Alaska) • Rehabilitation of orphaned sloth bears exploited for tourists in South Asia (While executive consultant 'in-residence' at the Agra Bear Rescue Center managed by Wildlife SOS) • Censusing small wild cat (e.g. ocelot and margay) populations in the montane cloud forests of Costa Rica for popular publications with 'The Cat Whisperer' Mieshelle Nagelschneider • Evaluating the impact of ecotourism on marine mammal population stability and welfare off the coast of Mexico's Sea of Cortez (With Boston University's marine science program) Jordan was a director on boards of non-profit wildlife conservation organizations serving nations in Africa, North and South America and Southeast Asia. He is also a consultant to a human-wildlife conflict mitigation organization in the Pacific Northwest. Following animal curatorships in Alaska and California, he served as a charter board member of a zoo advocacy and outreach organization and later as its executive director. Jordan was a member of the Communication and Education Commission of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (CEC-IUCN) and the Bear Specialist Group of the IUCN Species Survival Commission (BSG-SSC-IUCN). He has served on the advisory council of the National Wildlife Humane Society and in service to the Bear Taxon Advisory Group of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA Bear TAG). In addition he was an ex officio member of council of the International Association for Bear Research and Management. Contact Email: