A hundred tiny terrapins are paddling about at the Greater Vancouver Zoo, awaiting their return to the wild next year.
The twoonie-sized animals are western painted turtles, a species threatened by invasive fauna, human development, and poor water quality.
A partnership between the zoo and the Wildlife Preservation Trust has allowed the creation of the new program, an expansion of a similar program that has bred and released Oregon spotted frogs for more than a decade.
Andrea Gielens, who works with the animals, said the 100 eggs were collected from the wild last year from areas where they were likely to be disrupted. For example, one nest was found in a gravel boat launch.
"There was a 100 per cent risk they were going to be run over by a truck," Gielens said.
Another site they found has now been dug out as a fire pit.
The turtles will now hatch at the zoo - as of last week, about 50 were out of their shells and the other 50 were about to emerge - and be raised for almost a year under warm lights in tubs of water.
The group of a dozen raised last year as a pilot project was released last week.
The western painted turtle is one of three species of painted turtle found around North America, and within B.C. there are six genetically distinct populations, said Gielens.
Those whose eggs are being collected here are the Fraser Valley variety, and they'll be re-released at likely ponds around the region. The zoo and Wildlife Preservation Trust are looking for areas where the natural conditions are good, and where the nearby community will be supportive of wildlife.
The turtles will never get very large - a good sized female may hit 10 inches long, said Gielens. Males are a couple of inches smaller.
Aside from human encroachment on wetlands, one of their bigger threats is the red-eared slider, a nonnative turtle.
Originally from Florida and Central America, the red-eared slider is a popular pet turtle, despite its sale being banned in the U.S. due to concerns about it spreading salmonella. Many people buy a red-eared slider when it's small, find out it's hard to take care off, and then put it in a nearby pond. They are aggressive and will eat young painted turtles.
Helping prevent the extinction of a turtle may not carry the same cachet as working with pandas or bison, but the smaller animals have their own roles to play.
"They're so important for our biodiversity," said Elaine Williams, executive director of the Wildlife Preservation Trust.
The cost for the programs is also low, with the trust spending about $60,000 to $70,000 for Gielens salary and various expenses, and with the zoo also offering its space, staff help, and resources to the effort.
@ Copyright 2013