'Endless summer' is over for 12 endangered turtles

Zoo joins WDFW and other conservation partners to return rare turtles to wild

Fall officially came yesterday for most of us, but for 12 western pond turtles raised at the Oregon Zoo, a yearlong summer finally drew to an end today.

Since last September, the turtles basked in the warmth and light of a simulated summer in the zoo's conservation lab, growing large enough to have a fighting chance in the wild. Today, with the help of its conservation partners and local wildlife agencies, the zoo returned these endangered reptiles to the wild at the Columbia River Gorge.

"Here at the zoo, the turtles experience summer year-round, so they don't go into hibernation," said Dr. David Shepherdson, Oregon Zoo conservation scientist. "In eight months, they grow to about the size of a 3-year-old wild turtle and have a much greater chance of surviving to adulthood."

Once the turtles reach about 70 grams (a little more than 2 ounces), they are returned to their natural habitat and monitored for safety.

"At this size, the young turtles are able to avoid most of the predators that threaten them, such as non-native bullfrogs," Shepherdson said.

In May, the zoo released 19 of the largest turtles it had been rearing over the winter, and today's batch of 12 are the last ones for the year.

The turtle reintroduction is part of a collaborative effort by the Oregon Zoo, Woodland Park Zoo, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bonneville Power Administration, USDA Forest Service and other partners. As part of the Western Pond Turtle Recovery Project, conservation scientists "head-start" newly hatched turtles gathered from wild sites, nurturing them at both zoos for up to 11 months. In one study, scientists estimated that 95 percent of the turtles released back to sites in the Columbia Gorge survive annually.

This year marks the 24th anniversary of the Western Pond Turtle Recovery Project, begun by Woodland Park Zoo and WDFW in 1991. The Oregon Zoo has been a collaborator in the project since 1998. 

The Oregon Zoo's participation in the Western Pond Turtle Recovery Project is funded through the Oregon Zoo Foundation, the Bonneville Power Administration, the Foley Frischkorn Wildlife and Conservation Fund, Globalgiving.org, and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The Oregon Zoo is a service of Metro and is dedicated to its mission of inspiring the community to create a better future for wildlife. Committed to conservation, the zoo is currently working to save endangered California condors, Columbia Basin pygmy rabbits, Oregon silverspot and Taylor’s checkerspot butterflies, Western pond turtles and Oregon spotted frogs. Other projects include studies on black rhinos, Asian elephants, polar bears and bats.
The zoo relies in part on community support through donations to the Oregon Zoo Foundation to undertake these and many other animal welfare, education and sustainability programs. The zoo is located five minutes from downtown Portland, just off Highway 26 at exit 72. The zoo is also accessible by MAX light rail line. Visitors who travel to the zoo via MAX receive $1.50 off zoo admission. Find fare and route information online or by calling TriMet Customer Service at 503-238-RIDE (7433).
General zoo admission is $10.50 (ages 12-64), $9 for seniors (65 and up), $7.50 for children (ages 3-11) and free for those 2 and younger; 25 cents of the admission price helps fund regional conservation projects through the zoo’s Future for Wildlife program. A parking fee of $4 per car is also required. Additional information is available by calling 503-226-1561.

Media contact: 

Hova Najarian | 503-220-5714 | hova.najarian@oregonzoo.org