Brookfield Zoo launches program to help endangered turtle - FOX 32 News Chicago

PHOTOS: Brookfield Zoo program helps endangered Blanding's turtle

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By Zoe Sobel, FOX 32 News intern

The Chicago Zoological Society, in collaboration with the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County, is initiating a breeding and release program to increase the local wild population of the endangered Blanding's Turtle. The initiative includes an outdoor Blanding's turtle habitat at the zoo's Dragonfly Marsh exhibit.

The Blanding's Turtle--which are endangered in Illinois and threatened nationally--can live to be more than 80 years old, but they do not reach sexual maturity until 13 to 15 years. Due to this slow maturation, changing water levels, and natural predators - such as raccoons and herons - the turtles have just a two percent chance of reaching maturity.

Dan Thompson, an ecologist for the Forest Preserve District of DuPage Country, is excited to work with the Brookfield Zoo towards ensuring the survival of Blanding's Turtles. He said, "local wetlands, and the plant and animal ecosystem within them, improve our water quality and our understanding of the world around us."

The predator-proof Dragonfly Marsh exhibit will house Blanding's turtles until they are ready for release. Typically, turtles that are raised in captivity have a lower than average rate of survival. The Brookfield Zoo has taken steps to prepare the turtles for the wild. Some of their efforts include: keeping the turtles outdoors year round so they can experience normal seasonal cycles; furnishing the turtle's habitat with native plants and logs; and making the turtles forage for their own food.

This fall, 12 turtles will be released into the DuPage County Forest Preserve in an attempt to increase the wild population. The Brookfield zoo plans to have additional turtle releases with turtles bred at the zoo.

The zoo has constructed an off-exhibit breeding space which will be able to hold 30-40 female turtles. It is possible that these female could produce 250-300 hatchlings each year.

Male and female turtles will be placed together in smaller separate pods. Once the female has laid her eggs, the Chicago Zoological Society staff will collect the eggs and put them in temperature controlled incubators. A hatchling's sex is determined by the temperature at which it is incubated. Eggs incubated at a higher temperature yield males while lower incubation temperatures yield females. Therefore the zoo will be able to ensure that there are equal amounts of male and female turtles.

"Our mission is to support the continued survival of the Blanding's turtle in the Chicagoland area," said Bill Zeigler, the senior vice president of collections and animal care for CSZ. He also is a member of the board of directors for the Turtle Survival Alliance, an organization that works to protect turtles worldwide. "Fostering a sustainable population is an important step to increase the Blanding's turtle population locally and allow this species to not only survive but, hopefully, begin to thrive."

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