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World Turtle Day: Show your love for these mighty heroes

Posted by Kirsten Pisto, Communications

On World Turtle Day 2020, we are more committed than ever to protecting vulnerable turtle, tortoise and terrapin species at home and around the world. #TurtlePower

A western pond turtle about to be released into protected Washington wetlands. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

For western pond turtles, recovery is possible thanks to a collaborative effort between Pacific Northwest stakeholders determined to give these local gems a head start. Knocked out by predators, loss of habitat and invasive species, the western pond turtle population hit a devastating low of 150 turtles in Washington by 1990. But now, this native species is poised for a comeback. For more than two decades, Woodland Park Zoo has partnered with Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Oregon Zoo and others to give these turtles a fighting chance. Today, successful reintroduction has brought that population up to more than 1,200.

Without the collaborative efforts of Woodland Park Zoo and the Oregon Zoo’s head starting programs, it is very likely that the Western pond turtle would be extinct in the wilds of Washington. Learn more about these tiny, but mighty local heroes:

Swim on, little buddy! Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo
Woodland Park Zoo continues to rebuild the Western pond turtle population here in Washington state, and we’re doing the same in Cambodia with the critically endangered Southern River Terrapin. This species was close to being extirpated from Cambodia, in 2004 the only remaining individuals in the country were found along the Sre Amel River – where the terrapins were known to nest on just two sand bars. Since that time, our conservation partner Turtle Survival Alliance has been protecting nests and collecting hatchlings for headstarting – much like we do with Western pond turtles here in Washington state.

A Southern river terrapin, photo courtesy of Thida Leiper, Wildlife Conservation Society.
Woodland Park Zoo helps fund the Koh Kong Reptile Conservation Center in Cambodia, where genetic analysis of the headstarted population is conducted, animals that can be released when they reach the appropriate size are identified and to date, more than 80 Southern River Terrapins have been released with transmitters so their movements can be monitored and the population can slowly rebuild. 

A tiny Egyptian tortoise hatches at Woodland Park Zoo, photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.
Every visit to the zoo and every heart, share or comment left on our turtle conservation stories, helps us educate folks about the importance of protecting wetlands and habitat for local turtles and advocating for species all over the world like the tiny desert-living Egyptian tortoise which face intense pressures in the wild. Despite its name, the Egyptian tortoise is actually now extinct in Egypt and only small populations remain in Libya. Habitat destruction and human encroachment have devastated the Egyptian tortoise’s native habitat, and the illegal international pet trade has nearly depleted wild populations. The successful hatching at Woodland Park Zoo helps maintain genetic diversity and is part of our commitment to the conservation of this species.

Twin Eqyptian tortoises are seriously adorable. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.
Do your part to protect turtles, terrapins and tortoises:
  • Promise never to buy or sell pets if you don't know where they are coming from. The illegal pet trade is no good for turtles and other wildlife, so if you are purchasing pets, make sure they are from a vetted source and never buy or sell endangered species.
  • Keep your local wetlands clean and healthy! Don't dump chemicals down the drain and cut down on pesticides in your yard that can run off into the street and eventually make its way to streams, rivers and the Puget Sound.
  • Advocate for protecting endangered species and support laws that save vulnerable species from human harm including wildlife trade, poaching and habitat loss.
  • Support your local zoo, conservation programs and habitat restoration projects.