Cosley Zoo is proud to partner with the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County, as well as the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, Brookfield Zoo, and St. Charles Park District, in this program which works to help increase the wild population of Blanding’s turtles (Emydoidea blandingii) in Illinois.
Blanding’s turtles are medium-sized semi-aquatic turtles whose distribution is concentrated around the Great Lakes. Their population has been declining in recent years due to the loss of available wetland habitat. In addition, increased pressure from predators has caused a decrease in the number of turtles surviving to sexual maturity (15-20 years of age). In 2009, Blanding’s turtles were added to the endangered species list in Illinois.
The Head Start program aims to increase the number of Blanding’s turtles surviving long enough to reproduce. The Forest Preserve District of DuPage County collects gravid (pregnant) turtles from the wild and houses them until they lay their eggs. After the eggs hatch and the young turtles are off to a good start, some of them are raised by Cosley Zoo staff for about a year. The turtles are reared at an accelerated rate, so that when they are released back into a DuPage County wetland, they are larger than a wild turtle of the same age and should be less vulnerable to predators. The young Blanding’s turtles are not on display at the zoo in order to minimize their exposure to humans, but we do have an exhibit containing adult Blanding’s turtles which can be viewed by the public seasonally, as well as a live video feed of the turtle rearing area.