SMALL (but not unnoticed) PROJECTS!

Our Staff Participates in Some Important (but unnoticed) Projects!

The keeper staff at John Ball Zoo work very hard day in and day out to insure the animals and exhibits at the zoo are well cared for. Most visitors are not aware that some very important work also is occurring behind the scenes, out of the public view.

One example is the Wood Turtle Head Starting Project. This project began in 2007 and was the idea of zookeeper Paul Suplinskas. With the approval of the Michigan DNR, John Ball Zoo partners with Michigan State University Professor Jim Harding, who has been studying a wood turtle population in Northern Michigan since the 1960’s. Jim had found that, for some time, there had been no surviving wood turtle hatchlings. All the nests and the eggs they contained were being destroyed by predators, mostly raccoons. The idea was simple and had been used successfully with other species. Jim collects eggs from nest sites each spring and the eggs are incubated in a protected environment. Once the eggs hatch, the little turtles are transported to John Ball Zoo, where they spend the next 10 months in strict isolation. During that time, keepers in the quarantine facility provide daily care and feeding. It is critical that the baby turtles not come in contact with other reptiles or have the possibility of transferring any disease, because these turtles are returned to the wild, in the same area the eggs were collected. However, instead of being an egg or a tiny hatchling when they enter the wild, these turtles are the size of a 3 or 4 year old turtle! At that size, they are much more capable of surviving as far fewer predators attempt to consume them. Since 2007, 80 little turtles have called our zoo home for a while, and 71 have been returned to the wild. On August 27th another 9 turtles arrived at John Ball Zoo (see photos) and are currently under the expert care of our keepers. They will be released next June and will become yet another important addition to the wild population.  Wait until the spring photos are released to see how much they have grown!

Please be aware that intervention of this type should not be attempted by the public, even though the intention may be honorable. To do so without the approval of the DNR and without proper permits is illegal and could result in prosecution. 

About Dan Malone

author photo

ANIMAL CARE SUPERVISOR at John Ball Zoo.  Specializes in reptiles and amphibians, but also mammals including chimpanzees.  

view full bio


#1 Zooie said:

I am a zooie at John Ball Zoo School and I am thinking about doing the Wood Turtle for family night at the Zoo. So I enjoy this article and hope to fing more information. Thank you!

Leave a Comment