Tiny cute hero turtles: The newly hatched reptiles that experts hope can save their species


Hello, world: This Western Pond Turtle hatches from his egg at Oregon Zoo, where a two-decade breeding programme is underway to help save the species

Peering nervously out of its shell for a first glimpse at the world, this turtle, not much bigger than a 50p piece, is part of a breeding programme that will hopefully help save its species.
Once common along the Pacific coast of North America, the Western Pond turtle has all but disappeared from Canada and is threatened in the United States and Mexico by river dams, invasive plants, draining of wetland and its natural predators.
But these latest additions, born at Oregon Zoo, give hope that their decline can be reversed.

Miniscule: This little turtle is barely bigger than a coin. Out in the wild, it would have been extremely vulnerable to predators at this size

They are the result of a 20-year breeding programme aimed at restoring the species to its previous levels. Although the turtles can live until the age of 70, they don't begin to breed until they're 10.
But with the turtles endangered in Washington state and threatened in Oregon - and populations greatly reduced and concentrated elsewhere - it can be hard to find a mate.

Endangered: Western Pond turtle populations on North America's Pacific coast have dwindled to just a few hundred in some areas

This little turtle measures just a few centimetres and weighs a few ounces but once fully grown, they can reach six to eight inches long and weigh up to 2.4 pounds.
Trouble is, they grow very slowly and so are extremely vulnerable to predators out in the wild.
But these turtles will be given a fighting chance as they'll be looked after at the zoo until the spring and then tracked by electronic transmitter.

Endangered: Western Pond turtle populations on North America's Pacific coast have dwindled to just a few hundred in some areas

The zoo has released 1,500 turtles over the past two decades, with encouraging results - the Columbia River Gorge turtle population rose from a low of 150 in 1990 to approximately 1,500 in 2011.
Experts predict that 95 per cent of those turtles released back into the Gorge have survived.
The Western Pond Turtle can prove very elusive as they rapidly dive from their basking sites into deep water when approached by humans.
They're often found hidden under submerged rocks and logs, in deep silt or in beaver borrows and lodges.

Tiny friends: The zoo's previous preservation efforts have been successful, with populations of other turtle species rising ten fold

These omnivores eat insects, crayfish and other aquatic invertebrates, as well as the occasional fish, tadpole or frog.
Females deposit clutches of 5-13 eggs once or twice a year and can travel as far as half a mile and up to 300ft above the nearest source of water for egg-laying.
The females spend a considerable amount of time covering up their nest and soil with vegetation to make it harder for predators to find the eggs.

Helping hand: Once big enough, the zoo will release the little turtles back into the wild. Some will be fitted with electronic trackers to monitor population levels

source: dailymail