OAKLAND, Calif., Aug. 10 (UPI) -- Western pond turtles hatched at the Oakland Zoo will be released into the wild as part of a project to save them, officials at the California zoo said.
Almost a year after being hatched, the reptiles, California's only native aquatic turtles, will be released next week in a remote Lake County bog.
"We want to help these guys before it's too late," zookeeper Ashley Terry told the San Francisco Chronicle. "It's exciting, but in a way it's hard to see them released. I love these little guys."
The eggs were collected by researchers at Sonoma State University who have been studying the pond turtles to learn why their numbers are in decline.
With shiny olive shells and webbed feet, the western pond turtle was once common in streams and lakes throughout the West but is now listed as endangered in Washington, threatened in Oregon and of special concern in California.
Juvenile western pond turtles fall prey to a variety of predators, from skunks to snakes to big-mouth bass, scientists said.
"They're an all-you-can-eat dinner on predators' menus," said Dave Riensche, wildlife biologist at the East Bay Regional Park District, which is conducting its own study of the turtles. "I opened up a bullfrog once and its stomach was full of baby pond turtles."
Since the studies began four years ago, several hundred turtles have been successfully released back into the wild, researchers said.