October 13, 2009
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has released 260 alligator snapping turtles into the waters of Tishomingo National Wildlife Refuge in Oklahoma, where the only viable population of alligator snappers is found at Sequoyah National Wildlife Refuge.
North America's largest turtle, alligator snappers have weighed in at over 200 pounds. Their size, combined with a spiky shell, makes them very distinctive. Alligator snappers can live 70 years and longer. Their traditional habitat is free-flowing streams with muddy bottoms in the watershed of the Mississippi River. But loss of habitat and hunting have reduced populations of the big turtle, now listed as endangered in several states. In Oklahoma, the alligator snapper is identified as a species of “special concern.”
The group of turtles recently released at Tishimingo Refuge was confiscated from a commercial breeder in Arkansas. After the health and genetics of the turtles were tested to make sure they were compatible with Oklahoma's turtles, they were released into the Washita River watershed, within their historic range. All of the turtles were marked for future identification and several now have sonic transmitters on their shells. Tishomingo Hatchery and researchers at Oklahoma State University will track the turtles' movement over the next two years.
Other national wildlife refuges are also coming to the rescue of the huge turtle. At Sequoyah Refuge, also in Oklahoma, alligator snappers are bred in captivity for release in the wild. At Black Bayou Refuge in North Louisiana, turtle nest surveys are conducted annually and efforts are made to control the predator raccoon population.