A happy ending for baby turtles, a victory for partnerships in action
AIKEN, SOUTH CAROLINA, July 27, 2023 – The University of Georgia Savannah River Ecology Laboratory, in partnership with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, USDA Forest Service – Savannah River, and the Riverbanks Zoo and Garden, successfully released offspring of confiscated eastern box turtles on June 29, 2023 at the Savannah River Site in Aiken, South Carolina. This accomplishment was the culmination of a story four years in the making following the journeys of over 200 confiscated eastern box turtles, their offspring, and owner-surrendered turtles.
In August of 2019, 200 illegally collected turtles were recovered from inhumane conditions. Tracey Tuberville, a senior research scientist with SREL, states, “many turtles were emaciated. They didn’t have any access to food, water, or even substrate.”
“What does anyone do with 200 confiscated turtles?” Andrew Grosse remarks.
Andrew Grosse, the State Herpetologist with the South Carolina Department of National Resources, comments, “What does anyone do with 200 confiscated turtles? Most rescues, rehab facilities, and zoos do not have the capacity to care for that many turtles.”
Within hours of being contacted, Tracey Tuberville and Kurt Buhlmann, senior research associate at SREL, jumped into action. They quickly created space for the turtles at SREL facilities where the turtles could heal.
“This is a testament to good partnerships and being able to implement a plan quickly,” Grosse adds.
Working together, USFS-SR, SREL, and SCDNR selected potential release sites on the Savannah River Site for a permanent home for the turtles once they were recuperated. The turtles were released on lands routinely managed and monitored by a variety of agencies. Buhlman states, “No one can collect from this site. It’s protected.”
“This release is an example of success for the future. It took collaboration to make it a triumph,” remarks Tuberville.
This achievement is a testament to the hard work of many agencies working together to protect a species. “This release is an example of success for the future. It took collaboration to make it a triumph,” remarks Tuberville. It requires synergy to protect the future of the planet.
As part of ongoing research efforts, the turtles’ movements, survival, reproduction rates, and health will continually be monitored by Tuberville, Buhlman, and Ryan Rimple, SREL graduate student.
Rimple is currently monitoring and tracking the spread of Ranavirus in these turtles as part of a long-term study funded by the Riverbanks Zoo and Garden. The study concludes at the end of 2023 with findings being shared in late spring 2024.
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About the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory: The Savannah River Ecology Laboratory, a research unit of the University of Georgia, located near Aiken, South Carolina, pursues a plethora of research interests from atoms to ecosystems in the realm of ecology. For over seven decades, the SREL’s mission has provided an independent evaluation of the impact of Savannah River Site’s operations on the environment to the public and to the Department of Energy. This mission is accomplished through research, education, and outreach.