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Endangered turtles haven is tucked into Ventura County foothills

June 4, 2011 |  5:57 pm

Turtle photo 
Somewhere in the foothills of Ventura County, in paddocks and aquariums protected by surveillance cameras and electric wire, Okinawa leaf turtles feast on silkworms and mulberries in a temperature-controlled greenhouse. Nest-building Burmese black mountain tortoises relax in piles of freshly cut oak, sycamore and bamboo. Forest-dwelling impressed tortoises dine exclusively on organically grown oyster mushrooms. Philippine pond turtles spend the night in snug tunnels made of cork bark.

The Turtle Conservancy keeps its location under wraps to protect the animals from black-market poachers. But a few new arrivals are making news: eight ploughshare tortoises flown in from Hong Kong. With fewer than 300 remaining in the wilds of Madagascar, it’s one of the rarest species in the world. Previous efforts to breed the animals in captivity have gone awry, but biologists at the Turtle Conservancy are about to try again.

Times staff reporter Louis Sahagun has the full story: A secret oasis for the world’s most endangered turtles.

Photo: Eric Goode holds a ploughshare tortoise at the conservation facility.  Credit: Stefano Paltera / For The Times