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Threatened turtles released to Mountain Lake

Native, threatened Western pond turtles will be released into San Francisco’s Mountain Lake this afternoon in the culmination of a seven-year-long species restoration effort by Sonoma State University biologists and the Oakland and San Francisco Zoos.

Western Pond Turtle project biologists will release 24 turtles into the newly-renovated Inner Richmond District park at 3 p.m. following a Science Saturday talk at the Mountain Lake Outdoor Classroom on the northern end of the lake.

The turtles that are to be released will be sporting special transmitters for further research as they settle into their new home, zoo officials said.

According to Oakland Zoo officials, Mountain Lake was selected as the turtles’ habitat because it has undergone recent restoration and is now deemed suitable for the species to populate. Sonoma State Professor of Biology Nick Geist said in a statement:

“This is a great opportunity to take this project and relocate these turtles to a restored environment.”

These Western pond turtles were hatched two to three years ago and raised at the Oakland and San Francisco zoos to be given a good head start, according to Oakland Zoo officials. The baby turtles were raised at the zoos to ensure that they grew to healthy sizes, an advantage zoo officials believe will set them up to be able to fend off predators such as bullfrogs and largemouth bass, and help them compete against red-eared sliders, a non-native, more aggressive turtle species.

According to Geist, the hope is to establish a resident population as the top predators in the lake’s food chain:

“It’s up to us to try to bring them back. I can’t save all the turtles, but I can help with this species in our own backyard.”

According to Geist, Western pond turtles are the only native freshwater aquatic turtle in all of California, and they are a threatened species. The Western Pond Turtle project was born when Geist realized there was a lack of information on these turtles and decided to rectify this.

Western Pond Turtle Species Survival Plan Coordinator Jessie Bushell said in a statement the Western pond turtle’s presence is a strong indicator of the ecosystem’s health:

“Through our conservation efforts, we hope children will experience the joy of seeing a Western pond turtle in the wild 20 years from now.”

As indicated by Saturday’s release, this day could be much sooner.

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