Shedd Aquarium to help effort to save Blanding's turtles in DuPage

 
 
Updated 9/12/2018 8:02 PM
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  • The Forest Preserve District of DuPage County says the Shedd Aquarium is going to join its effort to boost the Blanding's turtle population. Blanding's turtles are an endangered species in Illinois.

      The Forest Preserve District of DuPage County says the Shedd Aquarium is going to join its effort to boost the Blanding's turtle population. Blanding's turtles are an endangered species in Illinois. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

The Shedd Aquarium is joining the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County's long-running effort to save an endangered species of turtles.

Forest preserve officials this week said the Chicago-based aquarium will become the latest partner in the district's Blanding's turtle recovery program, which raises hatchlings in captivity before releasing them into the wild.

The district has been conducting the program since 1996 to try to rebuild the reptile's numbers in DuPage.

"Blanding's turtles are nowhere near being recovered," said Tom Velat, the district's ecology coordinator. "Scaling up of the program will be necessary to recover the species."

Blanding's turtles are an endangered species in Illinois because of disappearing wetland habitats. People also illegally collect the turtles, which are known for their vibrant yellow markings.

The turtles, which can live more than 70 years, don't start breeding until their teens.

In the 1990s, district staff members noticed they were only finding adult Blanding's turtles in the preserves and not any juveniles or young adults. It was a sign the turtles were dying off faster than they could repopulate.

When it was discovered that predators were raiding turtle nests and snatching the eggs, staff members decided to intervene. They began tracking turtle births in 1996 and eventually started attaching transmitters to track females.

Now when female Blanding's turtles are ready to start laying eggs, staff members take the animals to a facility so they can nest. Once a turtle lays her eggs, she's released and her eggs are placed in an incubator.

The hatchlings are raised in captivity for at least a year to give them a better chance of survival.

Because the turtles require daily care, Velat said, it would be overwhelming for the district to raise all the reptiles on its own.

So it has added partners through the years to help. Those partners are the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum in Chicago, Brookfield Zoo, St. Charles Park District, Cosley Zoo in Wheaton and Isle a la Cache Museum in Romeoville.

Since the inception of the program, the district has hatched nearly 3,300 Blanding's turtles. More than 3,000 of them have been raised by the district's partners.

There were 209 turtles released into the wild in 2017.

Velat said adding the Shedd will make it possible to raise even more turtles.

"We're building capacity for future efforts," he said. "What we can do now is good. But we need to be better in order to really recover the species."

In addition to the quality of its staff and facilities, the Shedd is an ideal partner because it attracts roughly 2 million visitors a year, Velat said.

"This level of contact with the public can help increase awareness of this important work being done by the district," he said.

The plan is for the Shedd to start taking hatchlings next year.

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