This is the moment US zoo experts release 23 endangered turtles into their natural habitat in the Columbia River.
The 23 western pond turtles (Actinemys marmorata) were released in the Columbia River Gorge, forming the natural boundary between the states of Oregon and Washington, after being reared in a laboratory at Oregon Zoo since the autumn.
The Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) categorises western pond turtles as ‘vulnerable’.
With the help of conservation groups and local wildlife organisations, the zoo returned the endangered reptiles to the wild as part of the ‘Western Pond Turtle Recovery Project’.
The project involves experts gathering newly-hatched turtles from the wild and rearing them at the zoo for up to a year to give them a better chance of survival.
In addition to the 20 wild hatchlings brought to the zoo last autumn, this year’s release included three turtles that hatched at Oregon Zoo.
Zoo spokesperson Shelly Pettit said: “Here in the conservation lab, the turtles don’t go dormant over the winter, they experience summer year-round, and in less than a year grow to about the size of a 2-to-3-year-old wild turtle.”
She added: “This gives them a much greater chance of surviving to adulthood.”
After the turtles are released along the Columbia River Gorge, a team of conservationists monitor them. In one recent study, experts estimated that 95 percent of turtles released in the river survive every year.
Western pond turtles were reportedly on the verge of dying out in Washington State two decades ago, and fewer than 100 were believed to be in existence.
Since then, over 1,500 zoo-raised turtles have been released into the wild.
The Western Pond Turtle Recovery Project is a collaborative effort between Oregon Zoo, Woodland Park Zoo, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, US Fish and Wildlife Service, USDA Forest Service, Friends of the Columbia Gorge, and other organisations.
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