A Head Start for Ornate Box Turtles

Right now, behind the scenes at the Kovler Lion House, 18 hatchling ornate box turtles are experiencing their first days of life. It’s a welcome milestone for a species Lincoln Park Zoo is helping to restore to Illinois.

One of the ornate box turtle hatchlings at the Kovler Lion House. Lincoln Park Zoo is partnering with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to restore the species, which is endangered in Illinois.

One of the ornate box turtle hatchlings at the Kovler Lion House. Lincoln Park Zoo is partnering with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to restore the species, which is endangered in Illinois.

These reptiles came to Lincoln Park Zoo through a partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Ornate box turtles are threatened in Illinois, their numbers dwindling due to fragmentation of the sand prairie habitat in which they live.

To reverse the decline, conservation scientists have turned to a “head start and release” program in partnership with the zoo. It starts with ornate box turtle eggs being collected from stable populations in the wild. They’re then brought to the zoo and incubated under the watch of our expert caregivers.

This clutch hatched on Friday, with 18 turtles—each roughly the size of a quarter—breaking through leathery shells. These new arrivals will spend the next year behind the scenes at the zoo, thriving in specialty habitats, growing steadily with meals full of rich nutrients. When they’re released to the wild after their year at the zoo, this head start should help them flourish, giving this struggling wild population a welcome boost.

One of the turtles emerging from the shell.

One of the ornate box turtle hatchlings at the Kovler Lion House. Lincoln Park Zoo is partnering with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to restore the species, which is endangered in Illinois.

Ornate box turtles aren’t the only species getting a head start at the zoo. Smooth green snakes and jumping mice also get a chance to grow here before returning to the wild.

These partnerships reflect the best of Lincoln Park Zoo. They offer the opportunity to apply our expertise in conservation and care to restoring species to the wild. They combine the thrill of new arrivals with the satisfaction of making a difference.

Expert care should give the ornate box turtle hatchlings the head start they need for a successful release to the wild.

Expert care should give the ornate box turtle hatchlings the head start they need for a successful release to the wild.

As these turtles grow behind the scenes, we’ll offer updates on their milestones—all the way through their successful release next summer!

Kevin Bell

Comments

Need volunteers?

Hi, I was wondering if you need any volunteers for the ornate box turtle conservation project. I currently have two pet turtles, and have had three others while I was growing up. I truly love turtles of all kinds. I am currently a research specialist and graduate student at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Please contact me by email or phone {number redacted}. Thanks, Jess

Re: Need Volunteers?

Jess, animal care is typically left to our experts, but we have passed your note along to the people leading the ornate box turtle recovery effort.

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