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.