Box Turtles Given a New Home

Katy, TX-Browning-Ferris Industries Katy Wildlife Habitat on the Katy Prairie received another lost native son with the recent release of displaced, wild box turtles into the wildlife preserve. Debbie Figueras, coordinator of BFIs wetlands mitigation bank project, supervised the repatriation of the box turtles back into the area.

Ms. Figueras says the Katy Wildlife Habitat Area has ample food resources for box turtles. They eat insects like grasshoppers, snails, beetles, fallen fruit, earthworms and carrion. The area also has several ponds and Spring Creek, which can supply the turtles with drinking water. The 400 acre Katy Wildlife Habitat is large enough for many box turtles to find home ranges within its confines, yet no box turtles have ever been sighted in animal surveys of the area. This could be due to the fact the area was once used for growing rice and such agricultural use drove out the existing box turtles. The land has been converted back to a natural environment but roadways and large farm tracts may be keeping migrating box turtles from repopulating the area.

With the help of volunteer Tess Cook, a Katy resident and public speaker on box turtle conservation, several Eastern Three-toed box turtles and Western Ornate box turtles were released on the site. She says, ``BFI's Katy Wildlife Habitat is a great place for box turtles since it is a nature preserve and all animals within it are protected. The area contains habitat suitable for both native species of box turtles. One likes woodlands, the other grasslands. The box turtles I released were all found around Katy and were being displaced from their homes. These were not people's pets or box turtles that were saved from petstores. Only healthy animals should ever be released.''

The needs of both species were researched and they went through an acclimation period to prepare them to live in the new area. The release took place during the time they naturally begin to look for a hibernation den. It's hoped they will awaken in the spring and make the Katy Wildlife Habitat their new home.

Ms. Cook says, ``It's humans who are converting turtle habitat into our own homes, workplaces or shopping centers, so we have a duty to help them whenever we can. Small, isolated turtle populations have a hard time maintaining their own numbers and cannot easily expand their range. The survival of eggs and hatchlings are very low, so a relocation program like the one at BFI's Katy Wildlife Habitat is important if we hope to save box turtles from extinction.''

Conservation groups have released other animals in BFI's Katy Wildlife Habitat, including raccoons, a red-tail hawk, a barn owl and screech owl. Mammal rehabilitation and releases are commonplace but reptile repatriation projects are still rare and every effort to document and follow up the release should be made. Ms. Cook says, ``Just a few years ago the Egyptian Tortoise was nearly totally removed from it's natural habitat. There are now more in capitivity than there are in the wild. If we hope to have this endangered species reclaim a natural habitat, what we learn now about repatriation of turtles like the box turtle will be invaluable.''


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