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Box turtle hatching caught on camera

Posted by: Rebecca Whitham, Communications

On this Endangered Species Day, we celebrate nature's latest gift to us—a critically endangered Indochinese box turtle baby, newly hatched before our eyes and thriving.

Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Our zookeepers put long hours into incubating eggs, maintaining a warm, safe environment for those about to hatch. When they are lucky, they get to see the big payoff happen before their eyes!

Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

This month, we were there to greet an Indochinese box turtle as it hatched into the world. Using its egg tooth (the pointy tip you can see best in the photo below), it broke through the shell when it was ready to hatch after 78 days of incubation. At only about an inch and a half in length, the little fella is too small for any of the exhibit spaces we have in the Day Exhibit, so for now, it’s being reared behind the scenes.

Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Zookeepers are especially excited about this tiny addition, as it marks the first hatching of this critically endangered species at our zoo. And that’s even more important when you realize there are only 19 Indochinese box turtles in North American zoos in total! The hatching marks a triumph for a species struggling to survive in a world where almost 50% of known turtle species are listed as “Threatened.”

Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

The Indochinese (or flowerback) box turtle is native to China and Vietnam where its populations are plummeting due to over collection as food and as an ingredient for traditional medicine. Turtles have been around for 220 million years and survived the massive extinction that wiped out the dinosaurs. Yet these ancient survivors are now going extinct faster than any other group of terrestrial vertebrates.

Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

It’s not too late. Every time you visit the zoo, you make it possible for us to support conservation projects in the field, like the Turtle Survival Alliance and the Egyptian Tortoise Conservation Program, or our homegrown Western Pond Turtle Recovery Project, part of the Living Northwest conservation program.

Take Action for Turtles

You can continue the work at home in your own community. Native turtles need clean water, safe places to nest, and a healthy food supply to survive. You can help make these things possible by taking a few simple actions at home:

Clean Gardening
Keep turtles' water clean by reducing or eliminating chemical pesticides from your gardening practices. Pesticides get into water, and once water flows away from your garden, it eventually empties into surrounding water systems, from freshwater ponds to the Puget Sound, bringing contaminants into wildlife habitat.

Habitat Restoration
Make a better home for native wildlife: Join a habitat restoration program in your community, or start in your own backyard by using native plants that nourish and support local wildlife rather than compete with it. Don't miss our Backyard Habitat classes for hands-on lessons you can apply at home or in your community.

What will you pledge to do for turtles?