Turt Reynolds? Blanding's turtle hatchlings get a good head start in Lake County
The supporting cast was absent, but the work of boosting the population of an endangered species in Lake County continued Friday with the release of 53 baby Blanding's turtles.
As he has every year since 2010, Gary Glowacki, a wildlife ecologist with the Lake County Forest Preserve District, carried his charges in plastic bins to the edge of a large marshy area and released them to continue what hopefully will be long lives.
Known for their bright yellow chin and throats that make it appear as if they are smiling, the presence of Blanding's turtles is important as an indicator of the health of wildlife in general, Glowacki has noted.
Due to precautions regarding the coronavirus, work in groups has not been authorized, so the scientists and students who typically assist were absent this year. Glowacki presided solo over the annual "graduation" of turtle hatchlings on the eve of World Turtle Day, which is Saturday.
"I'm just relieved to get the turtles out there," he said.
The work is done at an undisclosed location to avoid alerting poachers. Combined with habitat loss and increased pressure from predators, the Blanding's in 2009 were designated as endangered in Illinois.
The district in 2010 initiated conservation strategy known as "head starting" in which hatchling turtles are raised to a larger body size before being rereleased to the wild, to increase their chances of survival.
Turt Reynolds, Tito Blandito and Turt Kobain were among the 2020 class, which was a bumper crop. Others will be released in coming months.
The little reptiles are named by donors in the forest district's Adopt-a-Turtle recovery program, which has grown every year. In the most recent season, 134 turtles were adopted and $16,977 in donations received, which surpassed the goal of $12,000.
The popularity of Adopt-a-Turtle in a sense mirrors the success of the reintroduction program.
"We're continuing to see positive trends. The population is growing and it's stable and secure," Glowacki said. Turtles are tracked by radio transmitters and can be identified by a four-letter code notched on their shell.
Including Friday's batch, 934 hatchlings have been released.
A recent analysis of the program showed it has been effective in that the Blanding's population has a wide-range of juvenile animals and that head-started turtles show growth and survival similar to wild-born turtles.
According to the district, expanding the head-starting program to establish new populations at other locations is a natural next step.