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Southwestern pond turtle shows signs of a comeback

August 20, 2011 | 11:10 am


Modern life has been tough on the southwestern pond turtles that once were populous in the coastal part of San Diego County.

Development ravaged the turtle's natural habitat. Then came the rise of invasive species that challenged the turtles for food or, with some species, liked to dine on the turtles.

The African clawed frog, red-eared slider and crayfish have been particularly mean to the turtles, who lived in pools within natural streams and sloughs.

In 2003 the U.S. Geological Survey's Western Ecological Research Center could find only 120 pond turtles in five locations in the San Diego region. Without help, the turtle was looking like a goner in the region.

For one thing, two-thirds of the females were huddled together in one location -- not a smart way to keep the population growing.

In 2009 the USGS, the San Diego Zoo, the California Department of Fish and Game and the San Diego Assn. of Governments started a "save the turtles" program for the county.

Eggs would be hatched at the zoo and then young turtles relocated in the wild when they could avoid predation. Invasive species were removed.

The pond turtle still has a long way to go before it's out of danger.

But this week Thomas Owens, a senior keeper in the zoo's herpetology department, reported encouraging progress in a report to the annual Symposium on the Conservation and Biology of Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles in Orlando, Fla.

"Just last week, researchers saw new young pond turtles at the study site," Owens said.

Twelve pond turtles are on exhibit at the zoo's Elephant Odyssey and 10 at the Reptile House.

-- Tony Perry in San Diego

Photo: A southwestern pond turtle being raised at the San Diego Zoo is checked by a keeper. Credit: Ken Bohn / San Diego Zoo