Forest Preserve Releases Endangered Turtles

On Illinois’ endangered species list you’ll find the Blanding’s Turtle, but hopefully they’ll be swimming their way off the list soon enough.

Recently the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County released the first 12 turtles of 2017 into the wild as part of their 22 yearlong initiative, Project Head Start, dedicated to boosting the species population.

“And that’s what we found early on in the start of this program was when they were trapping populations, all they were finding were old turtles, there were no sub-adults, there were no juveniles. So we knew that when those older turtles died there’s no youngsters to replace them. So that’s why the Head Start program started,” said Dan Thompson, an ecologist with the forest preserve.

Blanding’s Turtles are most identifiable by their yellow bellies and necks. These turtles were raised from eggs in captivity and are about two-years-old.

“This is the ideal project to be working on as a scientist, because it has application,” said Dr. Leigh Anne Harden, an assistant professor at Benedictine University. “So these turtles are endangered, they’re a lot of human induced threats that they’re facing and to be able to study this vulnerable time period from essentially hatchling to adulthood, that juvenile time period is crucial for, if we understand a lot about this kind of unknown period of time in their lives we can hopefully conserve them.”

Partnered in the ongoing research project are students and faculty from Loyola and Benedictine Universities who monitor the turtles with transmitters and thermometers.

“We’re essentially tracking them to monitor their status or health status, and their habitat use and activity into this wetland,” added Dr. Harden.

And the efforts toward helping the Blanding’s Turtle could help wetland conservation as a whole.

“So we’re working on turtles here and we’re trying to use it as a flagship species to facilitate wetland conservation overall. I mean they’re really important, productive, habitats and keeping these habitats healthy really will lead to benefits to humans in a variety of ways,” said Dr. Joe Milanovich, an assistant professor at Loyola University.

About 200 Blanding’s turtles will be released for the project through the summer and early fall.

Naperville News 17’s Christine Lena reports.

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