Turtles rescued from wildfire-ravaged habitats brought to San Diego Zoo

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SAN DIEGO — A team of biologists rescued eight endangered pond turtles from their wildfire-ravaged habitats in the San Gabriel Mountains and brought them to the San Diego Zoo before potential mudslides can put their lives in danger.

The area was damaged by the Bobcat Fire and is at risk of mudslides and debris flows during this year’s rainy season.

“Megafires like these have created devastating ecological conditions even after the fires have been extinguished,” said Rich Burg, environmental program manager with California Department of Fish and Wildlife. “In this case, we have a situation where there is little or no vegetation left on the slopes, impacting terrestrial habitat. It is likely that there will be significant sediment flows into the West Fork of the San Gabriel River, which could fill in existing refugia pools and change water chemistry. This can negatively impact the pond turtle population.”

The pond turtles are the only freshwater turtles native to California and are considered at risk for extinction. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is assessing the two species to be potentially listed under the Endangered Species Act.

The turtles’ habitat will be assessed following the upcoming winter storm season and once it is considered secure, the turtles will be returned home.

The team of conservations included members from San Diego Zoo Global, U.S. Geological Survey, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, U.S. Forest Service, University of California, Los Angeles, Endemic Environmental Services, Inc. and Citrus College.

“We have become increasingly concerned over the status of our native pond turtles,“ said Ann Berkeley with U.S. Forest Service. “They are a small species with a great deal of charm, and their presence in our local creeks is important to maintaining the biodiversity in small waterways that are found throughout our Southern California mountains.”

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