Oregon Zoo releases year-old western pond turtles back into the - KPTV - FOX 12

Oregon Zoo releases year-old western pond turtles back into the wild in the Gorge

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Western pond turtle (Image: Oregon Zoo) Western pond turtle (Image: Oregon Zoo)

The Oregon Zoo released year-old western pond turtles back into the wild in the Columbia River Gorge.

Fourteen turtles, each weighing a little less than 2 ounces, were released with the assistance of the zoo's conservation partners and local wildlife agencies.

At the zoo, the turtles don't hibernate. Instead, they are given continuous warmth and light of a simulated summer to allow them to grow in one year to the size of turtles 2-3 years old in the wild.

Zookeepers said this gives the turtles a much greater chance of surviving to adulthood.

The biggest threat to baby turtles is the non-native bullfrog, which has thrived throughout the west and forced diving pond turtles and other small aquatic species to the brink of extinction, according to the Oregon Zoo.

As part of the Western Pond Turtle Recovery Project, conservation scientists "head-start" newly hatched turtles gathered from wild sites, nurturing them at zoos for up to a year.

In one study, scientists estimated that 95 percent of the turtles released back to sites in the Columbia River Gorge survive annually.

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 turtles have been released as part of the program.

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