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Zoos Team with Universities to Save Turtles

10 September 2015 | Oakland Zoo News Release

Oakland, CA – …Western pond turtles are set to be released into a new habitat at Mountain Lake, one of San Francisco’s three remaining natural lakes. Final preparations are underway at Oakland Zoo and San Francisco Zoo to secure special transmitters on twenty-four turtles as zookeepers get ready to turn the turtles over to Sonoma State field biologists on Saturday morning. “This is a great opportunity to take this project and relocate these turtles to a restored environment,” said Nick Geist, Professor of Biology at Sonoma State. The small turtles were hatched two to three years ago and raised at both zoos as part of a “head-start” program to grow the turtles into healthy sizes, so they can withstand the threats of predators, such as bull frogs and largemouth bass. Red-eared slider turtles also threaten the WPT population because they are a more aggressive turtle species that feasts on the same diet as the more docile Western pond turtle. Non-native species, predators, and habitat loss are all factors that have decreased Western pond turtle populations in Northern California.

Saturday’s release is significant because the turtles are being relocated to Mountain Lake, a lake that has undergone restoration and is now deemed suitable for the species to populate. “We are so proud that our collaboration with Sonoma State University and San Francisco Zoo has been able to provide turtles to Mountain Lake,” said Margaret Rousser, Zoological Manager at Oakland Zoo. The restoration of the lake is such an important project and we are thrilled that the lake will once again have our native Western pond turtles living in it.” “The Western pond turtle’s presence is a strong indicator of our ecosystem’s health,” says Jessie Bushell, San Francisco Zoo Director of Conservation and Western pond turtle Species Survival Plan (SSP) Coordinator. “Through our conservation efforts, we hope children will experience the joy of seeing a Western pond turtle in the wild twenty years from now.”

The Western Pond Turtle project is a partnership between the two zoos and Sonoma State University that began in 2008. As the only native freshwater aquatic turtle that resides in California, Dr. Nick Geist, professor at Sonoma State University recognized a dearth of information on the species and set out to correct it. He immediately enlisted the help of Oakland Zoo and San Francisco Zoo who were eager to assist. “The hope is to establish a resident population as the top predators in the lake’s food chain,” said Geist. “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 back yard.” Dr. Geist oversees research along with his graduate students. San Francisco Zoo and Oakland Zoo have been raising hatchlings in optimal conditions for their first few years, making sure they are too large to be easily swallowed by the American bullfrog or largemouth bass. By reaching the size of a three to four year old turtle in a single year, they are less likely to be targeted by other predators and are more prepared to survive the winter.

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Western Pond Turtles were once plentiful and ranged from as far south as Baja California to as far north as British Columbia. For many years, their habitat range has been shrinking and they are currently only found in parts of California and Oregon along with two small populations in the state of Washington. Their shrinking populations are credited to habitat loss, non-native predators, and crowding by non-native turtle species.

Established in 1929, the San Francisco Zoo & Gardens connect people to wildlife, inspire care for nature and advance conservation action. An urban oasis, the Zoo & Gardens are home to over 1,000 exotic, endangered and rescued animals representing more than 250 species as well as seven distinct gardens full of native and unusual plants. Located at the edge of the Pacific Ocean where the Great Highway meets Sloat Boulevard, the Zoo is open 365 days a year from 10 am to 5 pm and is accessible by San Francisco Muni “L” Taraval line.

Founded in 1961 as a teacher education center for the North Bay, Sonoma State University is now a liberal arts and sciences university dedicated to providing high-quality undergraduate education and professional graduate programs to its 9,400 students. The SSU educational experience fosters intellectual, cognitive, social and personal growth, and the faculty and staff of Sonoma State provide close mentoring relationships and an education that promotes ethical exploration, civic engagement, social responsibility, and global awareness combined with a solid foundation in an academic discipline. Dr. Nick Geist’s current research at SSU focuses on fundamental aspects of Western pond turtle biology, partnering with the Oakland and San Francisco zoos since 2008.

Additional Press Contact:
Nicolas Grizzle, Sonoma State University
News and Information Coordinator
(707) 664-3189


The Bay Area’s award-winning Oakland Zoo is home to more than 660 native and exotic animals. The Zoo offers many educational programs and kid’s activities perfect for science field trips, family day trips and exciting birthday parties. Oakland Zoo is dedicated to wildlife conservation onsite and worldwide. Nestled in the Oakland Hills, in 500-acre Knowland Park, the Zoo is located at 9777 Golf Links Road, off Highway 580. The East Bay Zoological Society (Oakland Zoo) is a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization supported in part by members, contributions, the City of Oakland and the East Bay Regional Parks.


Nicky Mora, Senior Manager, Marketing/PR Danny Latham, San Francisco Zoo, Director of Marketing
(510) 632-9525 ext. 130 (415) 753-7201

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