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A record number of European pond turtles to return back to their natural habitats in Dzūkija (Southeast Lithuania)


On Thursday, the Lithuanian Zoo will release a record number of European pond turtles back to their natural habitats – 118 baby turtles will return to their homes. This is not the first time that, as mid-summer is approaching, naturalists go to Lithuanian natural reserves to rescue and return “iron frogs” back to their natural habitats. Baby European pond turtles will be released close to the areas where the eggs were collected. The European pond turtle is one of the most endangered species not only in Lithuania but also in Europe.

It has been the fourth year already that at the end of the spring and at the beginning of the summer protected area specialists have collected eggs of European pond turtles laid at unsuitable places where they cannot be preserved, i. e. from forest roads, the carriageway of roads and busy roadsides. Thus, it is expected to preserve these eggs which are still incubated only in the Lithuanian Zoo. When they have grown a little, they are released back into their natural habitats. However, over a number of years, it has been observed that the majority of offsprings of European pond turtles do not survive the first winter. Therefore, based on the practice of other European countries, baby turtles were taken from the most risky egg-laying sites in 2014 and in the autumn of 2015. These baby turtles grew up in the Lithuanian Zoo.

Caring for European pond turtles is an activity that requires a lot of effort. “Laid eggs brought to the Lithuanian Zoo are marked and offsprings hatched from eggs laid at different times are kept separately until spring when they are started to be adapted for their return to their natural habitats. Since their birth, babies are weighted, the length of their carapace [the one-piece hard outer shell] is measured and the shell is examined once per month. Each offspring is identified according to the photos of the plastron [the bony plate forming the ventral part of the shell]. Therefore, the growth and the condition of health of each animal can be closely observed, and the behaviour and even interrelations of baby turtles can be analysed. However, we do not interfere into their unique communication too much and we do not hurry to rescue them in case there is a dispute between brothers over their favourite food or place under the lamp. Let them learn to stand for themselves” says Alma Pikūnienė, Head of the Cold-Blooded Animals Division at the Lithuanian Zoo.

Currently, two institutions, namely, the Meteliai Regional Park and the Lithuanian Zoo, take care of the conservation of European pond turtles in Lithuania. Poland and Belarus also have European pond turtle populations; however, the subspecies of turtles in these countries are different from ours. In neighbouring countries, the genetics of European pond turtles are better adapted to survive in more rigorous conditions, and the damage caused to the population of these animals by human economic activity is not as large as the one in our country.

Communication Division
22 June 2016

Minister of Environment of Lithuania Kęstutis Navickas
Minister of Environment of Lithuania Kęstutis Navickas