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Turtle trapping effort yields 62-pound turtle from Papago Park pond

Posted in: News Media
May 26, 2010
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After a three-day management effort to remove nonnative turtles from a Papago Park pond near the entrance of the Phoenix Zoo, biologists are still in disbelief at the capture of the largest turtle ever in the history of the program: a 62-pound alligator snapping turtle. 
  
The turtle is nearly double the weight of the previous record holder, a 31.5 pound common snapping turtle.
  
“Finding a turtle of this size in the pond is a reminder of how important it is not to release nonnative species into the wild,” says Cristina Jones, turtles project coordinator for the Arizona Game and Fish Department. “Not only is this animal considered restricted wildlife, a turtle of this kind and size is capable of significantly impacting the native species living in the pond by out-competing them and preying on native turtles and fish.”
  
The large alligator snapping turtle was removed from the pond and taken to the Phoenix Herpetological Society (PHS), where it will remain in captivity. It was not part of the zoo’s exhibits. The pond is enjoyed by zoo guests from a viewing bridge, high above the water.  
  
This year, 75 nonnative turtles were captured and 32 were removed from the pond, with the majority being red-eared sliders. Only female nonnative turtles were removed from the pond to help prevent reproduction. Female turtles will be placed with PHS and made available for adoption to suitable homes with a pond in a fenced yard.  
   
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“The Phoenix Zoo has been intensively involved in native species conservation efforts like the nonnative turtle trapping for many years,” says Stuart Wells, director of conservation and science at the Phoenix Zoo. “Controlling these invasive species benefits the efforts to recover native species populations. Many of the state’s most imperiled species, including Chiricahua leopard frogs and narrow-headed garter snakes, are negatively impacted by the proliferation of introduced nonnative species.”
  
Every year, it is estimated that hundreds of unwanted pet turtles are released into the Papago Park pond by their owners. Owners often purchase turtles when they are small without considering how large they become. Believing they are doing the best thing for their unwanted pet, they release them in public ponds.   

Federal regulations prohibit the sale of turtles smaller than four inches long as pets to help prevent salmonella, an infection that young children are especially prone to contract. Arizona also has a law prohibiting the sale of any animal, including turtles, on or adjacent to public streets and parks in Maricopa and Pima counties.
   
“The sale, distribution, or gifting of turtles with a shell less than four inches long is illegal,” says John Kolman, Maricopa County Environmental Services Department director. "All reptiles, like turtles, lizards, and snakes; and amphibians like frogs, are commonly contaminated with salmonella, which could make people, especially children, very ill.” 

The first nonnative species turtle trapping was held at the zoo in 1999. Since then, nearly 700 turtles have been captured and 375 removed. 
  
The trapping program was a joint effort of the Arizona Game and Fish Department, Phoenix Zoo, Phoenix Herpetological Society and nearly 120 volunteers.
   
The alligator snapping turtle, one of the largest freshwater turtles in the world, is native to the southeastern region. Alligator snapping turtles spend most of their time in the water, and rarely venture on land. A threatened species, adult snappers have no natural predators other than humans. 
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