Turtle conservation work nets Oregon Zoo a national award

The Oregon Zoo in Portland has earned a national conservation award from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums for its work on western pond turtle recovery.

The zoo has been partnering with Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo to boost populations of the western pond turtle in the Northwest. Native to Oregon and Washington, this turtle is considered a sensitive/critical species under Oregon’s Conservation Strategy because of declining numbers. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is reviewing whether the species should be given protection under the Endangered Species Act, and Washington’s Department of Fish and Wildlife also is considering its status.

An endangered western pond turtle is released at a site in the Columbia River Gorge in 2016. Kathy Street | Courtesy of Oregon Zoo

An endangered western pond turtle is released at a site in the Columbia River Gorge in 2016. Kathy Street | Courtesy of Oregon Zoo

Oregon Zoo was recognized by the zoo association with a North American Conservation Award for its efforts on regional habitat preservation, species restoration and supporting biodiversity.

Although a native Northwest species, by 1990 western pond turtle populations remained at only two sites in Washington. Numbers in Oregon’s Willamette Valley as of 2015 had dropped to a point that’s 1 percent of historic levels, and a recent two-year survey in Clackamas County found no sign of native western pond turtles in the county.

Since the 1990s, conservation efforts have expanded the number of Washington populations to six. These include two sites established in Puget Sound and four in the Columbia River Gorge. More than 1,800 turtles were released at those sites, with an estimated 95 percent survival rate at one year for those released.

This year’s award is one of seven honors Oregon Zoo has received from the zoo association in the past five years. The zoo previously received annual awards from the association as follows: four for conservation work on Northwest species, one for environmental efforts involving the zoo’s daily operations and two for marketing excellence.

In addition to Woodland Park, Oregon Zoo is collaborating with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bonneville Power Administration, U.S. Forest Service and other partners on the turtle recovery project.

For more information on western pond turtles and the project, go to Oregon Zoo’s turtle page. AZA also offers general information about the species on its website.

AZA is the accrediting body for zoos and aquariums in the United States and seven other countries and is dedicated to the advancement of conservation, animal welfare, education, science and recreation. Oregon Zoo first earned its AZA accreditation in 1974. AZA  currently accredits fewer than 200 zoos nationwide.

Oregon Zoo’s conservation award win was announced in September at AZA’s annual conference, held in San Diego.

Susannah L. Bodman
Twitter: @Sciwhat
Facebook: Sciwhat.Science

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