8 Southwestern Pond Turtles Rescued From Fire Devastated California Mountains

The San Diego Zoo will temporarily house these little reptiles.
Pond Turtloe Release
Eight southwestern pond turtles rescued from the San Gabriel Mountains. Christina Simmons/San Diego Zoo Global

Biologists with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), U.S. Forest Service (USFS), University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), Endemic Environmental Services Inc., Citrus College and San Diego Zoo Global, announced that they have located and rescued the last remaining southwestern pond turtles (Actinemys pallida) in the San Gabriel Mountains of Southern California.

These turtles are of reproductive age and were barely surviving due in part to forest fires that had devastated the area in the last two months. The fires made the habitat of these turtles prone to mudslides and debris flow that would have a negative effect on the waterways in which these reptiles depend upon.

“Seventeen of the 20 largest California wildfires have occurred over the past 20 years,” Rich Burg, environmental program manager, California Department of Fish and Wildlife said in a statement released to the media. “Megafires like these have created devastating ecological conditions even after the fires have been extinguished. In this case, we have a situation where there is little or no vegetation left on the slopes, impacting terrestrial habitat. It is likely that there will be significant sediment flows into the West Fork of the San Gabriel River, which could fill in existing refugia pools and change water chemistry. This can negatively impact the pond turtle population.”


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The biologists were able to rescue eight southwestern pond turtles in two weeks. These turtles will be sent to the San Diego Zoo where they will remain while their habitat is assessed after the rainy season, If the habitat is found to be secure from debris fields and mudslides, the turtles will be returned to the wild.

“Our role as conservationists is to provide refuge and care for wildlife in trouble,” Kim Gray, curator of herpetology and ichthyology, San Diego Zoo Global said. “We are happy to make a home for these pond turtles until their home in the mountains can be made safe for them and their offspring.”

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