Dan Thompson, an ecologist for the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County, admired the endangered local turtles as they swam away from the shore after their release.
“They are a gorgeous turtle with a beautiful pigment,” Thompson said. “There’s a tremendous amount of work involved when bringing back a species (like the Blanding’s turtle) from the brink of extinction.”
The Chicago Zoological Society and the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County released the turtles into the pond as part of a new breeding-and-release program among the two agencies. The Blanding’s turtle, which is native to Illinois and the Great Lakes region, is distinguishable by its bright yellow chin and throat.
Zoo and DuPage Forest Preserve officials said the turtles will likely live out the rest of their lives in the pond, mate, and hopefully produce offspring that will increase their numbers in the wild. Male turtles, which can be highly aggressive with the female turtles, will be introduced to the pond area at a later time.
The nine turtles released on Tuesday were brought to the zoo from the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum in Chicago, the Cosley Zoo in Wheaton and from the Hickory Knolls Discovery Center in St. Charles, zoo officials said.
Only an estimated 100 Blanding’s turtles live in DuPage County, Thompson said. The zoo pond site is surrounded by an electric fence that will keep predatory animals such as raccoons out of the area. The turtles can live 80 to 85 years and do not reach sexual maturity until they are roughly 13 to 15 years old, according to zoo officials. The nine turtles won’t likely begin breeding for a couple of years, said Bill Zeigler, senior vice president of collections and animal care at the zoo.
“This is a safe place for them in the meantime, but we think they are big enough that most predators will leave them alone, such as the great blue heron and hawks,” Zeigler said; ”the zoo will give 12 other Blanding’s turtles that are currently part of the zoo’s Dragonfly Marsh exhibit back the DuPage County Forest Preserve officials this fall to help bolster the population in the preserves.”
DuPage Forest Preserve officials originally gave the 12 turtles to the zoo two years ago to allow them more time to grow and mature in a safe environment. The turtles are an important part of our local wildlife habitat that should be preserved and protected, Thompson said.
“People always ask, ‘Why put so much effort into saving one turtle species?’” he said. “The Blanding’s turtle is a early warning system, like a canary in the coal mine, and it’s saying that there are problems out there with the natural habit. The end result is biodiversity is critical to habitat health so we want to maintain every species that is out there.”
Happy Humpday (^_^)