By Jamie Leventhal
Slow and steady may win the race, but this species is sprinting to extinction.
Blanding’s turtles, which are named after American naturalist Dr. William Blanding, are quickly declining in number across the Midwest. However, these small reptiles are receiving help from a surprising source: a Chicago children’s museum. The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, located in Lincoln Park, has set up a Blanding’s turtle conservatory with a catch-and-release system to try and help the endangered species.
“We are involved in the hatchling turtles,” said Celeste Troon, curator and director of living collections at the museum. “We’re kind of protecting them for the most vulnerable part of their life.”
Workers with the conservation programs track 25 Blanding’s turtles out in the wild. Around this time every year, they locate the turtles and determine if they are pregnant. Impregnated females are taken back to the museum to lay their eggs, and then released back into the wild. The museum will then carefully watch over the eggs and baby turtles over the next two years, until the turtles are big enough to go out into the wild. Workers also take preventative measures to limit human contact with the baby turtles.
“It’s very hands-off, so they’re kept behind one-way glass,” Troon said.
According to Troon, Blanding’s turtles have suffered from a population decline because of several reasons. Just like any endangered species, the shelled creatures face habitat loss and deforestation. This severely affects Blanding’s turtles, as they tend to travel long distances to mate and find nesting spaces. Blanding’s turtles also face natural predators like coyotes and raccoons, which have experienced a population boom over the past few years. Even worse, their rarity has made them an item on the black market. The best way to help the turtles is to raise awareness, Troon said.
“If you know someone who has a pet Blanding’s turtle, they shouldn’t have it,” Troon said. “They should send it to a renowned wildlife center. If you ever find a Blanding’s turtle in the wild, don’t touch it and don’t bring it home.”
While the species may be in danger, the conservation center is making an impact. Troon said how she recently tracked down a hatchling she raised that was full of eggs. This was the first batch of turtles that had been produced by a turtle raised by the facility.
The exhibit in the museum is more than just a showcase for these turtles; it’s changing the status of the species.