PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — From basking under warming lights to the wild of the Columbia River Gorge, nine northwestern pond turtles were released by the Oregon Zoo this week.
Working with local wildlife officials, volunteers and members of the Zoo Apprenticeship Program, the turtles were returned to their natural habitat as part of a regional recovery project.
Starting last fall, the turtles stayed in a simulated summer habitat under warming lights at the Oregon Zoo where senior keeper Sara Morgan said grow quickly to help them survive better in the wild.
“The turtles live in summer conditions year-round in the lab,” said Morgan. “They grow quickly and reach the size of adolescent turtles in about nine months. This gives them a better chance of surviving in the wild.”
The zoo said that the turtles are also given plenty of time outside to help them grow accustomed to changing temperatures.
Once the turtles are big enough, about 50 grams, the zoo said they are taken to ponds along the Columbia River Gorge where conservations help reintroduce them and monitor them for safety.
According to a study, scientists found that 95% of the turtles survive annually.
In the wild, their predators include the American Bullfrog, a species that is invasive in this area.
“The larger they are, the safer they are from predators like bullfrogs,” said Morgan.
Currently, northwestern pond turtles are endangered in Washington and a sensitive species in Oregon, almost reaching extinction two decades ago with only 100 left in Washington.
In the last two decades though, the Oregon Zoo said they have helped head start 1,600 turtles that have been reintroduced to the wild.
“This is a critical time for these turtles,” said Morgan. “We need to get their population numbers up if we’re going to help save the species.”