Ornate Box Turtle Population Recovery in Illinois

Intro In partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the zoo is giving ornate box turtle hatchlings a head start—an essential step in the population’s recovery in Illinois.

Giving an Illinois Turtle a Good Head Start

The ornate box turtle (Terrapene ornata) is protected in six Midwestern states, including Illinois, where this threatened species is fragmented across limited prairie habitat. To further its recovery in the state, conservation scientists have decided to undertake an expanded head start and release program in partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

How does it work? Eggs are collected from a stable ornate box turtle population in the wild and brought to Lincoln Park Zoo, where they’re incubated. After hatching, juveniles will spend a year growing under the expert care of zoo professionals. This head start will give the growing turtles a better chance to gain a foothold in the wild.

“Our team is going to see to it that these turtles are strong, mature and ready to thrive in the wild when they leave the zoo next year,” says General Curator Dave Bernier. “In addition to providing them a wonderful home, we’re setting them up for success.”

When the turtles are mature enough to be released, the zoo’s partners from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will help the reptiles settle into their new home at Lost Mound Sand Prairie in Savanna, Illinois. The area was determined to be the best site within Illinois to reestablish the ornate box turtle. It includes 1,629 hectares of sand prairie, ideal habitat for the species, and is managed under state and federal protection.

Head-started turtles will be released and monitored for at least five years to track behavior and survival. The project’s long-term goal is to establish 100 turtles at Lost Mound Sand Prairie.


Staff

Dave Benier is Lincoln Park Zoo's general curator.  

Dave Bernier, General Curator

    Diane Mulkerin
Curator, Regenstein Small Mammal-Reptile House and Pritzker Family Children’s Zoo
Megan Reinertsen Ross, Ph.D., is Lincoln Park Zoo's Vice President of Animal Care  

Megan Ross, Ph.D.
Vice President of Animal Care

   

 


Multimedia

A Slow and Steady Hatch
18 tiny turtles hatch at Lincoln Park Zoo's Kovler Lion House—part of a zoo partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to restore the species to Illinois.

Ornate Box Turtle Recovery Program
We travel to the field for a local look at the ornate box turtles recovery program at Illinois’ Lost Mound Sand Prairie. Lincoln Park Zoo is partnering with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to restore this species to Illinois.

Twenty ornate box turtles returned to the wild in June 2014 thanks to a partnership between Lincoln Park Zoo and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Ready for Release
Twenty ornate box turtles returned to the wild in June 2014 thanks to a partnership between Lincoln Park Zoo and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The zoo's first batch of ornate box turtle hatchlings have returned to the wild, but 20 new turtles have just hatched behind the scenes at the Kovler Lion House.

Post from the President--Repopulating the Prairie
A second set of ornate box turtle hatchlings are part of the zoo’s work to repopulate Illinois’ prairies, President and CEO Kevin Bell shares.

One of the ornate box turtles reared at the zoo is held before its release at Lost Mound Sand Prairie near Savanna, Illinois. Photo by Sharon Dewar.

A Healthy Head Start
After a year of growth behind the scenes, 18 ornate box turtles were reintroduced to wild homes in Illinois. Learn how zoo experts are boosting the recovery of this threatened species.

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.

A Head Start for Ornate Box Turtles
President and CEO Kevin Bell introduces the 18 ornate box turtle hatchlings at the Kovler Lion House, part of a zoo partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to restore the species to Illinois


Links

Ornate box turtle photo by Mike Redmer

Ornate Box Turtle Background
The Prairie Research Institute fact sheet offers an overview of the spcies in Illinois.

Special tracking dogs help biologists locate threatened ornate box turtles. Photo by Jeramie Strickland

Turtle Dogs to the Rescue
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service shares how biologists have turned to special tracking dogs to locate ornate box turtles for the Illinois conservation effort.