Ten months later, and bigger than a bullfrogs mouth, the endangered turtles are free. Together with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife 134 turtles were released to recovery sites in the Columbia River Gorge, and Pierce and Mason counties last week.
For high school interns Olivia Peterson, age 18, from Edmonds, Wash. (left) recently graduated from Meadowdale H.S. and Theresa Keith, age 17, a recent graduate from Holy Names Academy, it was one of the coolest things ever. As volunteers through the Zoo Corps program they were in charge of cleaning the turtle’s tubs, feeding and counting them every day this summer. “It will be exciting to see how they react to a more stimulating environment,” said Keith as she measured, weighed and marked them for their great trek into the wild. Keith will be starting college at the University of San Francisco this fall and plans to double major in biology and Spanish. Peterson will be heading to Western Washington University.
According to the Woodland Park Zoo:
“In 1990, only about 150 western pond turtles remained in two populations in the state of Washington. A respiratory disease threatened the remaining turtles and evidence could not be found that any hatchlings were surviving. Collaborative recovery efforts over the last 20 years between Woodland Park Zoo, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, and other partners have resulted in saving Washington’s last two wild populations of the species, establishing four new populations and head starting nearly 2,000 turtles. Recent surveys indicate that at least 800 of those released turtles have survived and continue to thrive. At some sites, evidence has been found to indicate that wild hatchlings also are surviving.”
Each turtle has a passive integrative transponder tag injected into its skin so biologists can track them using radio transmitters.
More information on the Western Pond Turtle Project can be found in the zoo’s press release.