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GA Press: Struggling, rare bog turtles ready for another try at the wild

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Posted by: W von Papineäu at Tue Apr 19 08:32:53 2005  [ Report Abuse ] [ Email Message ] [ Show All Posts by W von Papineäu ]  

JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION (Atlanta, Georgia) 16 April 05 Hard(-shelled) life story - Struggling, rare bog turtles ready for another try at the wild, wildlife experts hope. (Clint Williams)
A room filled with snakes, frogs and three possums is at the center of an effort to save Georgia's rarest turtle.
In the wildlife clinic of the Chattahoochee Nature Center in Roswell, nine bog turtles live in fish tanks that rest on heating pads. The bog turtle, a miniature version of the commonly known box turtle, is nearly extinct in Georgia, and there's been a recent push to boost the population.
Sometime next month, two of the turtles will be released from the controlled environment of the nature center to the outdoors, which is better suited for reproducing — a 20-acre site in the Chattahoochee National Forest in Union County. The release is the next step in a captive breeding program, just the second in the country, designed to boost the population of the turtle, which, full grown, is just 3 to 4 inches long and weigh less than an order of McDonald's medium French fries.
There are no more than 100 adult bog turtles in Georgia and perhaps 5,000 to 10,000 in the country, said Ken Fahey, a biologist now teaching at North Forsyth High School who has spent 22 years studying the reptile in Georgia. A similar program at the Knoxville Zoological Gardens has raised and released more than 110 bog turtles in the Tennessee mountains since 1991. The breeding program, scientists said, improves the chances of a turtle's survival.
Bog turtles weren't discovered in the mountains of North Georgia until 1979, Fahey said, when one ambled into a trap set for grouse. They are rare because they inhabit uncommon real estate — open, level land in the mountains.
Mountain bogs, which are kept soggy by springs or small, braided streams, were quickly turned into farmland or pasture by settlers. Natural succession — wet meadows turning into dry forests as saplings become trees — also has reduced suitable habitat for bog turtles.
The black market for odd pets also has contributed to the turtles' declining numbers. Bog turtles, prized for the yellow or orange patch on their heads, fetch $1,000 or more. The turtle was listed as threatened in 1997.
Human development is why the bog turtle is so rare, Fahey said, so people have an obligation to try to reverse the decline.
"There are animals that are tough to save," Fahey said, citing the Florida panther, which requires hundreds of square miles of territory. "This one is not. All it needs is an acre or two of wet, swampy, boggy land."
Fahey, in more than two decades of searching, has found just eight sites where bog turtles live in Georgia. Six of those bog turtle territories are on private property.
"A little turtle isn't going to stop that land from being developed," Fahey said.
That is why it's important to establish a group of bog turtles on public land that is protected from development, said Thomas Floyd, project coordinator and a wildlife biologist with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.
Fahey keeps six bog turtles (four females, two males) in man-made, backyard bogs as brooding stock. He also collects egg-bearing females from the wild.
Hatchlings are reared at the Tennessee Aquarium in Knoxville and the Chattahoochee Nature Center. The turtles' tanks at the nature center are kept at a cozy 72 to 78 degrees, depending on the size of the turtle, said Kathryn Dudeck, wildlife manager.
The bog turtle menu includes specially raised crickets shipped in from South Carolina.
"The crickets are parasite-free, bacteria-free and virus-free," Dudeck said.
The first two turtles to be released, Floyd explained, will carry a radio transmitter used to track their movements.
Rangers and volunteers have spent at least three years preparing a 20-acre Union County site by removing saplings and brush, said Jim Wentworth, a wildlife biologist with the U.S. Forest Service.
The turtles will have radio transmitters glued to their shells and be monitored closely. If they seem to be doing well, five more will be released this summer.
"We think it is good bog turtle habitat," Wentworth said, "but we're going to have to let the turtles decide."
• The bog turtle is a miniature version of the box turtle, common throughout Georgia.
• At birth, a bog turtle weights approximately one-tenth of an ounce. A full-grown bog turtle is only 3 to 4 inches long.
• Bog turtles are usually found on the East Coast from Connecticut to South Carolina, and also in Georgia and Tennessee.
• There are fewer than 100 bog turtles in the state and fewer than 10,000 in the country.
Struggling, rare bog turtles ready for another try at the wild


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  • You Are HereGA Press: Struggling, rare bog turtles ready for another try at the wild - W von Papineäu, Tue Apr 19 08:32:53 2005

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