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Oregon Zoo welcomes tiny baby endangered turtles

KIFI

By Web staff

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    PORTLAND, Oregon (KPTV) — The Oregon Zoo this week welcomed 11 “quarter-sized” northwestern pond turtles.

Visitors can watch the hatchlings grow inside the zoo’s Nature Exploration Station.

“These hatchlings are very vulnerable to predators,” said Sara Morgan, senior keeper for the zoo’s Great Northwest area. “At this small size, a bullfrog can scoop up a mouthful right out of the nest.”

Earlier this summer, the zoo partnered with Washington Fish and Wildlife biologists to retrieve the turtle hatchlings from sites in the Columbia Gorge, and took them to the zoo conservation lab. With heat lamps and plentiful food, the turtles experience summer year-round so they don’t go into hibernation. Once they reach about 50 grams (a little more than 2 ounces), they are returned to their ponds and monitored for safety.

“We make sure they have everything they need to grow,” Morgan said. “When they return to the wild, they’re as large as a 3-year-old turtle.”

The northwestern pond turtle, also known as the western pond turtle, 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-head-started turtles have been released.

“Each hatchling is critical,” Morgan said. “We need to increase the number of turtles in the wild if we’re going to save this species from extinction.”

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