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Maryland Zoo raising wood turtles to release in wild

dvm360dvm360 January 2023
Volume 54
Issue 1
Pages: 14

Conservation effort strives to increase population of native wood turtles affected by habitat loss and poaching

The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore is raising wood turtles to be released into the western Maryland forests in 2023 in collaboration with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Susquehannock Wildlife Society.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Zoo.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Zoo.

According to an organizational release,1 the zoo is using a parent colony of 5 wood turtles, including 4 saved from an illegal collector in New York state, and raising 6 hatchlings in a biosecure area. Once they are large enough, they will be released into the wild, in the same western Maryland watershed where their parents were illegally taken.

“Here at the Zoo, we’re helping the hatchlings learn how to do wild turtle things by providing a naturalistic environment and rugged, variable terrain to master, while minimizing human contact,” stated Kevin Barrett, curator of reptiles and amphibians at the Maryland Zoo, in the release. “This is critical to their viability once they’re released.”

“Wood turtles are a species on the edge and we are taking conservation actions that aim to prevent its becoming endangered,” expressed Maryland DNR regional biologist Scott Smith. “In this case, we cannot safely release the illegally caught turtles back into the wild because of disease risk. By breeding them and releasing their ‘head start’ offspring, we can bolster their population, in a less risky manner, and not lose those genetic lineages.”1

When they first hatched, the turtles weighed between 6 and 9 grams, and now currently weigh between 9 and 15 grams. They will be released back into wild when they reach a more optimal weight to avoid predation and bear the weight of a tiny radio transmitter that the zoo and DNR will use to track and monitor them.

According to the release, wood turtles take a while reproduce and have high hatchling mortality. They live in small and isolated populations in the wild, and removing just 1 turtle from its homeland could be harmful to an entire population. Thus, each breeding adult wood turtle is valuable.

“The wood turtle headstarting program depends on a persistent, comprehensive, and collaborative approach,” added Kirby Fowler, Maryland Zoo president & CEO, in the release. “Nothing demonstrates better the important partnership between the Maryland Zoo and DNR than the fact that, together, we have rescued these turtles, know which watershed they’re originally from, are raising new generations, and have a robust tracking system in the wild.”1


Maryland Zoo is raising, or “headstarting,” wood turtles to release into the wild. News release. Maryland Zoo. November 9, 2022. Accessed November 14, 2022. https://www.marylandzoo.org/news-and-updates/2022/11/maryland-zoo-is-raising-or-headstarting-wood-turtles-to-release-into-the-wild

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