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Protocols Put in Place to Protect Turtles

May 16, 2022 11:56 AM

Ecologists from the Lake County Forest Preserves are working with expert veterinarians to monitor Blanding's turtles in this area and develop protocols in attempt to keep them safe from a fungus recently detected within the population in Lake County that may lead to turtle shell disease.  

Over the past 13 years, Gary Glowacki, manager of conservation ecology at the Lake County Forest Preserves, and his team have grown and stabilized the largest Blanding’s turtle population in the state. The species is endangered in Illinois and throughout most of its range, but the Lake County population is now one of the largest in the Midwest. 

Through routine health assessments done as part of the turtle recovery program, it has been discovered that three Blanding’s turtles that are part of this program and now in the wild have contracted Emydomyces testavorans, a fungus that is known to be highly associated with turtle shell disease. 

The Preservation Foundation, the charitable partner of the Lake County Forest Preserves, provided grants in 2017 and 2018 to initiate health assessments and a pathogen surveillance program. Since then, private funding has been secured to continue the health monitoring. 

Glowacki and his team are working with top doctors to monitor and study the turtles in Lake County. “We are working with Dr. Matt Allender, director of the University of Illinois Wildlife Epidemiology Lab at the Brookfield Zoo,” said Glowacki said. “He is one of the most respected experts in turtle health and disease ecology.” 

“It is a positive that we found this fungus early and can work to prevent the spread of this contagious disease,” Glowacki said. “We are in a very good place and feel fortunate to partner with the best of the best.”

Dr. Allender has worked with Glowacki to develop protocols to best handle the health concerns of the turtles and halt the spread of the disease.

These include:

  • Head-starting is temporarily on hold, meaning eggs will not be collected. 
  • Juvenile turtles will not be released into the wild in May as done in the past. 
  • Turtles may be released after multiple negative tests.
  • Lake County's wildlife conservation facility, where head-started turtles are growing, will follow strict biosecurity protocols developed in partnership with the Wildlife Epidemiology Lab.
  • The public is asked not to release pet turtles into the wild.

In addition on May 11, the Preservation Foundation provided an $8,000 grant to provide emergency cleaning supplies at our turtle facility  and emydomyces testing and treatment as part of the Blanding's Turtle Recovery Program. The grant will be used to purchase disinfection equipment and supplies, likely including UV sanitizer submersible light systems, an ozone water purification system and personal protective equipment that Dr. Allender recommended. It will also provide support for additional testing and treatment of turtles that have tested positive in both captivity and the wild with hopes that they can be released into the wild in the future.

In an effort to grow the population, the Forest Preserves has a head-starting program where eggs are collected, incubated and hatchlings are raised in captivity until they reach a sufficient size for release in the wild. The strategy helps protect eggs and individual turtles from predation. 

Because of health concerns, minor changes are being made to the Forest Preserve’s popular Adopt-A-Turtle program. While any gift helps protect the population, Turtle Champions at the $120 level can name a baby Blanding’s turtle, though when it will be possible to head-start new hatchlings is currently unknown.

The proceeds from the Adopt-A-Turtle program are more important than ever. They support annual population monitoring, which will continue as staff and partners work to understand this disease and its effects in Lake County.