Turtle Hatchling Press Materials

Lincoln Park Zoo Lions and Tigers and Turtles – Oh My!

Tiny threatened turtles get head start at zoo’s lion house

(ChicagoAugust 7, 2012) - Eighteen newly-hatched and oh-so-cute ornate box turtles have a big future ahead. The new arrivals will spend their first year getting the royal treatment down the hall from the king of the jungle at the zoo’s Kovler Lion House before being released into their natural home, Illinois sand prairie. 

These quarter-sized turtles are part of a conservation effort between Lincoln Park Zoo and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) that aims to restore the dwindling population of the threatened ornate box turtle across the state.

“Our job at Lincoln Park Zoo is to give these little guys the best possible head start. In a sense, we are a turtle nursery,” said General Curator Dave Bernier. “We love to work on these types of conservation projects, especially when an Illinois species that literally lives in our backyard is involved.”

In the case of raising these tiny turtles, it really does take a village. At Lincoln Park Zoo, the turtle team consists of Bernier, zoo reptile experts, and, unexpectedly, the exotic carnivore keepers at the Kovler Lion House.

“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. In addition to providing a wonderful home for them, we are setting these creatures up for success,” said Bernier.

The new arrivals will live in groups of six surrounded by comfy moss that they can use for nesting, and the climate will be kept warm and balmy – just the way turtles like it. Animal care staff will feed them specially-formulated, high nutrient turtle chow.

When the turtles are mature enough to be released, the zoo’s partners from USFWS will help them settle into their new home at Lost Mound Sand Prairie, a Unit of Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge in Savanna, Ill. Located within the former Savanna Army Depot, the area used to be home to many ornate box turtles before habitat loss caused by years of military activities drastically reduced the species’ population.

The ornate box turtle project is one of many examples of collaboration between Lincoln Park Zoo and USFWS. The two organizations have worked together on wildlife recovery programs like endangered massasauga rattlesnakes in Illinois and red wolves in North Carolina. 



Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo, a historic 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.

Ornate Turtle Hatchlings Quicktime Video Footage (200 MB .mov)

Click a thumbnail below for high resolution jpg.
Photo credit is Lincoln Park Zoo/Todd Rosenberg