HAVE THE KIDS EXPERIENCE SOME HANDS-ON LEARNING
Textbooks, lessons, and presentations are fine ways of learning. But sometimes you need to be hands-on, discovering something new by doing something new. At Cosley Zoo’s Turtle Day on Saturday, May 21, 10am-2pm, guests can interact with turtles and tortoises, participate in turtle-themed activities, and see the zoo’s turtle conservation program in action.
The Chicago Herpetological Society will bring turtles for live interactions.
And the first 50 guests to stop at the Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtles booth will score a swag bag full of items from the new movie, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, plus get a chance to win a family four-pack of tickets to a special advance screening in Chicago ahead of the film’s June 3 release.
The zoo’s Turtle Day is inspired by World Turtle Day™, a global celebration held every May 23 and sponsored annually by American Tortoise Rescue (ATR). Founded in 1990 by husband-and-wife team Marshall Thompson and Susan Tellem, ATR is a nonprofit aiming to “provide for the protection of all species of tortoise and turtle,” according to ATR’s website.
In its 26 years, ATR has rescued more than 3,000 turtles and tortoises, rehabilitating and returning them to their natural environments. ATR also currently houses about 125 captive-bred tortoises at its Malibu, California headquarters.
This type of conservation effort may sound familiar to regular zoo guests.
Since 2000, Cosley Zoo has helped revive DuPage County populations of the Blanding’s Turtle, which was placed on the Illinois endangered species list in 2009. Partnering with the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County, the zoo has so far released nearly 2,000 juvenile Blanding’s Turtles into local habitats through its Blanding’s Turtle Head Start program.
Zoo educators will be on hand during Turtle Day to discuss how the zoo gives Blanding’s Turtles a head start, and why they need our help.
For the first year of life, Blanding’s Turtles have soft, flexible shells that provide little protection. Predators, along with illegal collection from the wild, collisions with automobiles, and shrinking wetland habitats, make it difficult for newly hatched turtles to survive.
Head-starting a Blanding’s Turtle involves providing a suitable, carefully controlled habitat safe from predators, plus a complete diet that includes natural items the hatchlings would find in the wild and constant monitoring for proper growth.
This meticulously monitored setup helps the juvenile turtles grow faster, making them better able to survive outside the controlled environment.
While head-starting is an essential component of the wider Blanding’s Turtle Recovery Program, other critical elements must also be in place, including habitat restoration, safe passage over roadways, and public education about this vital Great Lakes species.
“These varied components are what make a partnership to help the Blanding’s Turtle so important,” said Sue Wahlgren, director of Cosley Zoo. “Each partner can bring their expertise to the table, working to establish a sustainable population of the Blanding’s Turtle in DuPage County.”
Turtles and tortoises are part of a scientific order called Chelonii, and biologists often refer to them collectively as chelonians. Many know they can retract their necks into their shells and—thanks to commercials—they tend to move slowly, especially when crossing a road or purchasing internet access.
Natasha Fischer, Cosley Zoo’s Education Manager, shared her favorite turtle fact.
“Many turtle species exhibit temperature-dependent sex determination, where the temperature at which the eggs are incubated determines whether the hatchlings will be male or female. Eggs incubated at lower temperatures hatch as males, and eggs incubated at warmer temperatures hatch as females,” she said.
Turtle Day is free with regular admission. Wheaton Park District residents, zoo members, and all children (birth to 17) are always free. Nonresident adults (18-54) are $5 per person and nonresident seniors (55+) are $4 per person.
To learn more about Cosley Zoo’s Turtle Day, conservation education, and other programs and events, visit cosleyzoo.org, call 630.665.5534, or stop in at 1356 N. Gary Ave., Wheaton.