Reptile Recovery Award

By Karey Burek

Have you ever heard of a Midwestern Blanding’s turtle?  Neither have I, and I actually grew up where these little guys were always just under my nose.   They only grow to be 5 to 10 inches in length and love to be around water.  They have a yellow chin and throat, and they also have yellow speckles on their shells. Their unique markings are not what make these micro-creatures interesting; it is actually their life-span that leaves scientists in awe. Blanding’s turtles mature extremely slowly, and may live to be 70 years old!  They are giving my grandma a run for her money!

In 1994, the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County began studying these reptiles to find out exactly why their population was dwindling so fast.  Most of the turtles they found for their study were in their 40s or 50s.  There were so few under the age of 20 that the researchers knew most of the turtles weren’t even making it out of their nest.  Predators were so effective in this area that they were killing off about 90 percent of the Blanding’s turtles.

In 1996 the Forest Preserve District began a protection program.   Researchers attached transmitters to the adult female Blanding’s turtles. When nesting season arrived, the researchers located the turtles and brought them to the Willowbrook Wildlife Center in Glen Ellyn, Ill. where the females laid their eggs before returning back to their natural habitat.  Meanwhile, the eggs were kept in an incubator until they hatched. They spent their first year at the Wildlife Center.  Year two was spent at Wheaton Park District’s Cosley Zoo.  At age 2, the turtles were released back into the wild.  This raised their rate of survival because they were released at a substantial size and weight,  hopefully replenishing the population over time.

This recovery program has gained some well-deserved attention.  This year, the National Association of County Park and Recreation Officials announced that the district’s recovery plan was a winner of the 2003 Park and Recreation Program award.  Only two of these national awards are given each year!

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