Archive: Rescued Pacific Pond Turtle Finds Sanctuary at Detroit Zoo

Endangered species part of international conservation initiative

September 14, 2015

ROYAL OAK, Mich., 

The Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) is providing sanctuary for a rescued Pacific pond turtle, also known as a western pond turtle – a critically endangered species that is the focus of international conservation efforts announced earlier this year by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).

The reptile was confiscated in late May from a California resident who reportedly obtained it illegally.  The rescue occurred after a concerned citizen saw a social media post made by the owner who claimed he was going to cook and eat the turtle.  Knowing the species was endangered, the woman offered to purchase the turtle from the individual and contacted authorities.  The animal was seized and taken in by the San Francisco Zoo and Gardens for several days before being moved to the Detroit Zoo in mid-June.  The turtle was in poor condition and appeared to have been confined in the man’s home for a while.  It was recently released from quarantine at the Detroit Zoo and can now be seen in its new habitat at the Holden Reptile Conservation Center.

“We are happy to be able to provide a great home and permanent sanctuary for this turtle,” said Scott Carter, DZS chief life sciences officer.  “Because this species is critically endangered, this is also an opportunity for us to help save the species and to educate our visitors on the importance of conservation and the efforts we are making to save wildlife and wild places all over the world.”

The western pond turtle was recently included in a list of 10 species identified so far as those that can benefit most from the expertise of AZA-accredited zoos.  There are currently 229 zoos and aquariums around the world that maintain the high standards necessary for accreditation by the AZA, including the Detroit Zoo.  The AZA launched its Saving Animals From Extinction (SAFE) initiative in May 2015, with early efforts focusing on 10 species and a goal of more than 100 species going forward.

“Through collaborative programs like SAFE, zoos can have an even greater impact saving animals in nature,” Carter said.

The Pacific pond turtle (Actinemys marmorata) inhabits different types of wetland habitats including rivers, streams, lakes and ponds, as well as reservoirs in California, northwestern Nevada, Oregon, Washington and the southwest corner of British Columbia.  It is the only native freshwater turtle on the west coast.  The population of western pond turtles in Washington was once near extinction, with approximately 150 animals remaining.  However, concerted head-starting and reintroduction efforts have helped this population grow to 1,200-1,500 individuals.