A Pint-Sized Turtle Adventure Awaits at the Oregon Zoo

by | Aug 1, 2023 | Conservation, Family Fun, Featured, Portland

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Get ready for a dose of cuteness! This summer, the Oregon Zoo is welcoming a squad of eleven tiny northwestern pond turtles, each just the size of a shiny quarter. These pint-sized reptilian residents are settling in nicely at the zoo, where the dedicated conservation lab team is providing them with all the care they need to grow up strong and healthy. By next spring, these little ones will have turned into sturdy, wild-ready adventurers!

Visitors are in for a treat at the zoo’s Nature Exploration Station where they can cheer on the little hatchlings as they blossom. Meanwhile, our not-so-welcome guest, the American bullfrog, is flexing its muscles as the largest frog species on the continent. Originally hailing from the eastern United States, these beefy bullfrogs are causing a splash, pushing pond turtles and other petite aquatic species towards extinction.

northwestern pond turtle, oregon zoo, tiny turtles, reptiles, endangered species
Western pond turtles, a species of special concern. California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Morgan and her band of wildlife warriors have been working hand in hand with Washington Fish and Wildlife biologists. They embarked on a rescue mission this summer in the Columbia Gorge, collecting the precious turtle babies and ferrying them back to the safety of the zoo's conservation lab. Nestled under warm heat lamps and treated to an all-you-can-eat buffet, these little turtles are getting a taste of eternal summer, ensuring they won't snooze away in hibernation. Once they beef up to around 50 grams (about 2 ounces), they'll be returned to their native ponds, under the watchful eye of their caretakers.

David A. Hofmann

"We make sure they're well-fed and happy," said Morgan, “When they return to the wild, they’re as chunky as a 3-year-old turtle.”

The western pond turtle is considered an endangered species in Washington and a sensitive species in Oregon. A mere two decades ago, these adorable amphibians were nearly wiped out in Washington, with fewer than 100 turtles left. But fear not! Thanks to the dedicated efforts of the zoo, over 1,500 'zoo-grown' turtles have been released back into the wild.

"Each baby turtle is precious," emphasized Morgan, "We need to boost the wild turtle population if we’re going to save this species from becoming a thing of the past.” The Western Pond Turtle Recovery Project is an all-hands-on-deck effort, joining forces of the Oregon Zoo, Woodland Park Zoo, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bonneville Power Administration, U.S. Forest Service, and other partners. They're all chipping in to ensure these adorable little turtles continue to paddle on for generations to come.

Do you love animals and nature? Be sure to check out our article on Oregon’s Top 12 Zoos and Aquariums where you can uncover the wonders of wildlife.


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Written By Danielle Denham

Danielle Denham is an award-winning and published photographer who loves her home state of Oregon. Recently she was featured on a regional-Emmy-winning episode of Oregon Field Guide, and is currently writing a book on Abandoned Oregon. When she isn't out and about exploring for derelict places to photograph, you may find her hanging around in Eugene Oregon with Tyler Willford and his two awesome kiddos.

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