Hatchling diamondback terrapins arrive
Annual “terrapin swap” is part of an effort to protect a Georgia native species.
The 25 hatchling diamondback terrapins now exploring a tidal creek habitat at Zoo Atlanta are part of a vital effort to raise awareness of and mitigate the threats facing a Georgia native species. Just weeks old, the hatchlings arrived in Atlanta on August 21, 2018, from the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, a department of the Jekyll Island Authority.
The terrapins are at Zoo Atlanta through the Zoo’s support of the Georgia Sea Turtle Center’s Jekyll Island Causeway Conservation Program. In receiving the new hatchlings, Zoo Atlanta also transferred 24 diamondback terrapins brought to the Zoo in 2017 back to the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, which will prepare them for release in the wild. The Jekyll Island Causeway Conservation Program focuses on a roadside management plan to reduce terrapin mortality on Georgia’s causeways and elsewhere with the goal of reducing the unsustainable impact of highway mortality on the diamondback terrapin population. Zoo Atlanta supports the program by rearing terrapins hatched from females killed or injured by automobiles. The terrapins are reared at the Zoo for around a year until they are large enough to present less of a target for predators.
“We’re proud to support the Georgia Sea Turtle Center in the important work they do to educate the public and offset the threats to the diamondback terrapin, which is a natural treasure of our state,” said Raymond B. King, President and CEO. “An important facet of conservation is the ability to address the challenges wild animals are facing in their natural habitats now. Our visitors can see, appreciate, and learn more about these young terrapins here at the Zoo with the knowledge that they are part of a much broader effort to protect a species of Georgia’s own backyard.”
Found only along the eastern and Gulf coasts of the United States, from Cape Cod south to the Florida Keys and west to Texas, the diamondback terrapin is the only turtle species in North America that inhabits brackish water. Once numerous on the coast of Georgia, the species was driven nearly to extinction by overharvesting for turtle soup in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Diamondback terrapin numbers have been able to recover from those declines, but highway mortality continues to be the turtles’ primary threat, along with habitat alteration and drownings in crab pots.
“We’re pleased to partner with Zoo Atlanta on this educational exchange,” said Dr. Terry Norton, Georgia Sea Turtle Center Director and veterinarian. “It’s great to share the coastal ecology story with those who might not get to see it in person.”
The new terrapins can now be seen in the Georgia Tidal Creek in Scaly Slimy Spectacular: The Amphibian and Reptile Experience. Their shells are numbered with nontoxic paint for identification.
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About Zoo Atlanta
Viewed as one of the finest zoological institutions in the U.S. and a proud accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), Zoo Atlanta has a mission to inspire value and preservation of wildlife through a unique mix of education and outdoor family experiences. From well-known native wildlife to critically endangered species on the brink of extinction, the Zoo offers memorable close encounters with more than 1,000 animals from around the world. Zoo highlights include giant pandas, including Ya Lun and Xi Lun, a set of twins born to Lun Lun on September 3, 2016; one of North America’s largest zoological populations of great apes; and a global center of excellence for the care and study of reptiles and amphibians. Scaly Slimy Spectacular: The Amphibian and Reptile Experience, featuring more than 70 species in a 111,000 square-foot complex, is the world’s first LEED Gold-certified reptile and amphibian exhibit. The Zoo’s newest experience, Treetop Trail presented by Kaiser Permanente, opened in March 2017. Up-close-and-personal animal experiences include behind-the-scenes Wild Encounters with African elephants, African lions, Aldabra giant tortoises, giant pandas and lemurs. Zoo Atlanta is open year-round with the exceptions of Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. Keeper talks, interactive wildlife presentations, education programs and special events run year-round. For more information, visit zooatlanta.org