Zoo receives conservation award

Aldergrove's Greater Vancouver Zoo has received the Peter Karsten Conservation Award

Andrea Gielens

Aldergrove’s Greater Vancouver Zoo has received the Peter Karsten Conservation Award from Canada’s Accredited Zoos and Aquariums (CAZA), in acknowledgement of its conservation efforts for the Western Painted Turtles.

This award recognizes an individual or institutional achievement in the field of conservation. Applications are encouraged for projects in the fields of conservation education, “green” operations, habitat preservation, species restoration or support for biodiversity.

For the past three years the Greater Vancouver Zoo and its partners have established a successful “head start” program with the goal of rearing and releasing individuals with an increased chance of survival, increasing population numbers and creating self-sustaining populations at historical and restored sites through captive breeding and head starting.

The head started animals are released at targeted population recovery sites determined by the Western Painted Turtle Recovery Team and supported by site assessments pre-release as well as continued monitoring and habitat restoration.

The releasing of some of the only remaining pond turtles in B.C., Western Painted Turtles, back to the wild are have grown from 73 hatchlings in 2013 to 120 hatchlings last year. About 130 hatchlings slated for release in 2016.

“There is very little known about hatchling and juvenile turtle behaviours, movements and habitat needs, and this data will help to inform both this species’ conservation as well as many related species and turtles in general,” says Andrea Gielens , wildlife biologist. Gielens is a respected biologist who has worked with the zoo’s animal care department for the past 10 years, on both the endangered Oregon Spotted Frogs and Western Painted Turtles conservation projects.

According to the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), the Pacific Coast population of the Western Painted Turtle is listed as endangered, while the Intermountain – Rocky Mountain population is listed as special concern. A short supply of suitable habitats due to urban development, drainage of wetlands, forestry, road building, and other human activities are a limiting factor for this species and other freshwater turtles.

The Western Painted Turtle is named after the bright yellow stripes on its head, neck, tail and legs, and the glowing red on its plastron (shell covering the belly) and under-edge of its carapace (shell covering the back). They can grow to over a foot in length, and can often been seen basking in areas completely surrounded by water to avoid predators.

Why should we help the coastal population of turtles? Loss of habitat, poor nesting sites, increased road mortality, competition from invasive species, slow to mature, reproduce at most every second year, and lay only one clutch per year. What to do if you see these turtles in the wild? Keep your distance, do not move them or take wild turtle’s home as pets. Be careful not to trample on turtle nest sites.

The Greater Vancouver Zoo is very grateful and thankful for the continued support of the Western Painted Turtle Recovery Program from the Wildlife Preservation Canada (www.wildlifepreservation.ca).

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