Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and Woodland Park Zoo to release more than 130 western pond turtles to a protected recovery site on On August 8

Seattle, WA, 2014-8-7 — /Travel PR News/ — Recovering population still faces challenges in the wild

WHAT: On August 8, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and Woodland Park Zoo will release more than 130 western pond turtles to a protected recovery site. The press is invited to the release site in Lakewood, Wash.

The turtles were collected from the wild as eggs, hatched, and head started at Woodland Park Zoo to improve their chance of survival in the wild. Once the turtles reach a suitable size of about 2 ounces—large enough to escape the large mouths of bullfrogs—they are returned to their homes and closely
monitored by biologists.

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.

WHEN: Friday, August 8, 10:00-11:00 a.m.

WHERE: Refuge site in Lakewood, Wash. For directions, contact the zoo’s PR staff byAugust 7. The release site is not publicized in order to protect the sensitive habitat.

VISUALS: WDFW biologists and zoo staff releasing the turtles in the ponds

INFO: The western pond turtle is crawling its way back to recovery but the population is not yet stable and faces challenges. Recently, veterinarians at the partner institutions have begun addressing a newly discovered threat—ulcerative shell disease—to investigate its cause and treat it successfully. The disease is known to cause ulcerative lesions in a turtle’s shell with advanced cases leading to lowered fitness, paralysis and even death.

At this point, the diseased turtles can be treated and get better, although it is unknown yet if treated turtles stay healthy in the wild in the longer term. WDFW is working with many partners to study the disease, treat severely diseased turtles, and provide overwinter care for turtles to allow their shells to heal before they are released back into the wild. After their release, WDFW is monitoring the turtles to see if they remain healthy and are able to reproduce normally in the wild.

Other threats to the turtle population include the loss of suitable habitat, invasive bullfrog predation and plants, and inappropriate ATV use.

Western pond turtles were once common from Baja California to Puget Sound, including the Columbia River Gorge. However, loss of habitat, respiratory disease and predation by non-native species such as bullfrogs decimated their numbers. In 1990, only about 150 western pond turtles remained in the wild in Washington. These last remaining individuals struggled for survival as they battled predation by the non-native bullfrog, disease and habitat loss.

In 1991, the Western Pond Turtle Recovery Project was established to help bring the imperiled species back from the brink of extinction by re-establishing self-sustaining populations in two regions of the state: Puget Sound and the Columbia River Gorge. In 1993, the state listed western pond turtles as endangered. The multi-institutional conservation project is made possible by Woodland Park Zoo, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Oregon Zoo, and other state, federal and private partners.

Primarily through head starting, habitat acquisition, and habitat enhancement, the population of the turtles has grown from 150 to an estimated 800, and is found in Washington wetlands at six sites in Klickitat, Skamania, Pierce and Mason Counties.

To help restore the rare pond turtles to their natural habitat, WDFW biologists take to the field each year. WDFW attaches transmitters to adult female western pond turtles and monitors the turtles every two hours during the nesting season to determine their nesting sites. The nests are protected with wire exclosure cages to help prevent predators from eating the eggs. In the fall, eggs and hatchlings are collected and transported to Woodland Park and Oregon Zoos, where they get a head start on life and can grow in safety.

Unlike wild turtles, zoo turtles are fed throughout the winter, so by their summer release, the 10 month olds are approximately as big as 3-year-old turtles that grew up in the wild.

For more information, visit www.zoo.org/conservation/turtles.

Editor note: For directions to the refuge site, call 206.548.2550 or email
woodlandparkzoopr@zoo.org by Thursday, August 7, 5:00 p.m.

Media contact: Gigi Allianic, Caileigh Robertson
206.548.2550 | woodlandparkzoopr@zoo.org