Local Wildlife Reintroduction

Rare Zoo-Raised Wildlife Released to Wild in Illinois

Ornate box turtles, meadow jumping mice, smooth green snakes on road to recovery thanks to collaborative efforts between Lincoln Park Zoo, Lake County Forest Preserve District and US Fish & Wildlife Service

Chicago (June 19, 2013) – Illinois is nicknamed the “Prairie State,” but less than 1 percent of original prairie remains intact, and several organizations are working to change that. Grasslands and sand prairies are being restored, and Lincoln Park Zoo is helping recover rare prairie-dwelling wildlife including ornate box turtles, meadow jumping mice and smooth green snakes.

The zoo, in collaboration with Lake County Forest Preserve District and the US Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) is breeding, raising and releasing these species, designated by Illinois as needing conservation help.

This week, for the first time ever, the zoo released 18 ornate box turtles in the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge near Savanna, Illinois. Next month, in another first for the zoo, several meadow jumping mice will be released to restored grassland prairie in Lake County. To date, the zoo has raised and released more than a dozen smooth green snakes, a small, brightly colored insectivore, to prairies in Lake County, and more snakes are slated for release this summer.

Prairie-reliant species are threatened primarily from habitat loss, conversion of grasslands into agriculture, pesticide usage and urbanization. Ornate box turtles and smooth green snakes, both visually stunning, face additional pressures from collection for the exotic pet trade.

“Suitable habitat is being created, but many species have trouble accessing it due to fragmentation from roads and other physical barriers which makes re-colonization of restored sites improbable,” explained Allison Sacerdote-Velat, Ph.D. reintroduction biologist at Lincoln Park Zoo. “These collaborative conservation partnerships are terrific because each agency brings a unique expertise. The zoo specializes in small population biology and animal care. We can successfully breed, hatch and care for these species until they are large and mature enough for release to the wild – a technique called 'head-starting' which gives them a greater chance of survival upon release."

Ornate box turtles, which thrive in sand prairies, are getting a leg up from USFWS which began a long-term research study and recovery initiative in northwest Illinois. Historically, a relatively large population of ornate box turtles inhabited the Lost Mound Sand Prairie in Savanna, but years of military activities there eliminated a large portion of the species. The land, no longer needed by the military, is being restored. With nearly 4,000 acres, it is the largest remnant sand prairie in the entire state and home to 47 state-listed threatened or endangered species.

"The zoo-raised turtles will join 16 others living in a protected area of the prairie. Our goal is to populate this area with 100 turtles by 2015 which includes remnant populations already on site, head-started turtles and trans-located turtles from nearby unprotected areas slated for development," said Jeramie T. Strickland, USFWS wildlife biologist.

“Later this week, biologists will bring a new batch of approximately 20 ornate box turtle eggs to the zoo for incubation, hatching and rearing. If all goes smoothly, another brood of turtles will be released to the wild next summer,” said Dave Bernier, Lincoln Park Zoo general curator.       

Meanwhile in Lake County Forest Preserve District, zoo staff is planning to release the rare and elusive meadow jumping mouse. Smaller than other mouse species in the region, this nocturnal rodent has large kangaroo-type feet which it uses to bound up to four feet through the grasses to evade predators like barn owls and coyotes.

"This species is an important seed disperser of native grasses and vegetation," explained Sacerdote-Velat. "The zoo has produced three litters, and will be releasing several individuals to restored habitat using a couple different release techniques to assess which methods are most effective at establishing a successful population. We'll track their movements with radio collars and the information gleaned will inform our ongoing recovery efforts."

In addition to the ornate box turtles, meadow jumping mice and smooth green snakes, Lincoln Park Zoo contributes to reintroduction and recovery efforts for red wolves, trumpeter swans, Guam rails and other threatened and endangered species worldwide.


 Images and video of the turtles hatching at the zoo in late 2012 can be downloaded here: www.lpzoo.org/turtlehatchlings

Media Contacts

Lincoln Park Zoo:
Sharon Dewar, 312-742-2246, sdewar@lpzoo.org                               

Lake County Forest Preserve District:
Allison Fredrick, 847-968-3261, afrederick@lcfpd.org

US Fish & Wildlife Service, Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge:
Jeramie T. Strickland, 815-273-2732, jeramie_strickland@fws.gov


About Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo

Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo, a historic Chicago landmark founded in 1868, is dedicated to connecting people with nature by providing a free, family-oriented wildlife experience. A leader in conservation science both globally and locally, the zoo exemplifies the highest quality animal care and educational outreach. The not-for-profit zoo, managed by The Lincoln Park Zoological Society, is a member-supported organization and one of the nation’s only free, privately managed zoos. For more information, call (312)742-2000 or visit www.lpzoo.org


About Lake County Forest Preserve District

As Lake County’s principal guardian of open space and natural areas since 1958, the Lake County Forest Preserves now manage more than 29,200 acres of land and offer innovative educational, recreational and cultural opportunities for all ages. Visitors of all ages can enjoy over 154 miles of trail for a variety of outdoor recreation uses, ponds and lakes for fishing, public golf courses, historical and cultural venues, public access to the Fox River, and award-winning nature and history education programs and events.

Facilities of special interest include Independence Grove in Libertyville, Ryerson Conservation Area in Riverwoods, Lake County Discovery Museum in Wauconda, Greenbelt Cultural Center in Waukegan, and ThunderHawk Golf Club in Beach Park. For a program calendar or additional information about your Lake County Forest Preserves, visit LCFPD.org or call 847-367-6640 and request a free copy of the Horizons quarterly magazine.  


About Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge

The Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge contains 240,000 acres and extends 261 miles through the states of Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Minnesota.  It was established in 1924 to provide a refuge and breeding place for migratory birds, fish, other wildlife, and plants.  The Refuge is designated as a Globally Important Bird Area and a Wetland of International Importance.  It supports a diverse assemblage of wildlife including 306 bird species, 119 fish species, 51 species of mammals, and 42 mussel species


Download Quicktime Video Footage (625MB MOV)

Photos credited to Sharon Dewar / Lincoln Park Zoo