It's a shellebration: Endangered baby turtles hatch at zoo

The four tiny turtles are the first of this rare species to hatch at zoo's conservation lab

In the Oregon Zoo's conservation lab, four tiny hatchlings have come out of their shells. The nickel-sized western pond turtles, which came to the lab as eggs earlier this month, are the first of this endangered species to hatch in the zoo's conservation lab.

"We head-start baby western pond turtles in our lab and release them each year, but those turtles have already hatched when they're brought in," said Steve Hash, a keeper in the zoo's reptile and amphibian area. "We had an adult western pond turtle in the lab for treatment last month and surprise! She laid a clutch of eggs."

In addition to rearing turtle hatchlings for release, vet staff at the zoo treat adult turtles brought to the lab with shell disease, an emerging condition that causes lesions on the otherwise hard shells of western pond turtles. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife brought a small group of turtles to the zoo in May, where they were successfully treated. The adults were released back to the wild, but the surprise hatchlings will stay in the lab until they're big enough to fend for themselves.

"We have everything we need to raise these baby turtles here," Hash said. "They're already eating well and growing fast, which is just what they need to do to get ready to go out in the wild."

Unlike recovery programs for other endangered species like California condors or Taylor's checkerspot butterflies — which take place offsite or behind the scenes — this conservation effort is easy to see. Oregon Zoo visitors can watch the small turtles as they grow inside the zoo's Nature Exploration Station.

The western pond turtle, once common from Baja California to the Puget Sound, is listed as an endangered species in Washington and a sensitive species in Oregon. Two decades ago, western pond turtles were on the verge of completely dying out in Washington, with fewer than 100 turtles left in the state. Since then, more than 1,500 zoo-headstarted turtles have been released.

The Western Pond Turtle Recovery Project is 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.

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 |

Kelsey Wallace| 503-220-5754 |