In the same way that no rule says a dog can’t play basketball, there’s no rule that says a turtle can’t graduate from zoo school. And so Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo is offering a stirring congratulations to its class of 2020 graduates, consisting of 24 western pond turtles about to move out of the zoo’s head start program and into the big wide world.
Western pond turtles are particularly at risk, due to invasive bullfrogs and some mysterious diseases that affect their shells. The zoo’s program gathers turtle eggs from the wild, grows the youngsters in safety, and makes sure they’re big and healthy enough to bolster the local population before release.
The process begins with bionic mothers.
Each spring, biologists wade through ponds, searching for female western pond turtles. Each one gets a special radio transmitter attached to her shell, which is used to monitor her movement during nesting season and locate prime nesting sites. Then the biologists construct protective cages around the sites so that the turtle moms can lay their eggs in peace; a portion of the eggs are gathered, and the offspring are grown over the summer.
Western pond turtles, which live from our region down to California, were almost completely wiped out in the 1990s, just like Oasis singer Liam Gallagher. That prompted an emergency effort by a coalition of west-coast zoos, and now their number has risen from a low of around 150 to somewhere close to 1,000. Because the turtles' lifespan is roughly similar to that of humans, they can continue to propagate the species for many decades, provided they can reach their reproductive age around 10 or 12 years.
If you would like to help these matriculating amphibians, the zoo recommends a few important steps: First, stop using chemical pesticides (seriously, they are super super super bad); join a local group that works on habitat restoration like Conservation Northwest, and don’t release domestic animals into the wild, like that one guy in San Francisco who released an alligator into Mountain Lake.
And above all, Seattle, always remember to be turtley enough for the turtle club.