Wildlife researchers have released four rare bog turtles into the wild, the first group of the federally threatened species to be let loose in Georgia.
ROSWELL, Ga. Wildlife researchers have released four rare bog turtles into the wild, the first group of the federally threatened species to be let loose in Georgia.
Excited state biologists said last week's release of the 4-inch-long turtles signaled one of the first benefits of an aggressive publicly funded program meant to restore north Georgia's increasingly sparse mountain bog habitat.
The species, believed to be the rarest turtle in North America, once thrived in treeless bogs at the foothills of north Georgia's mountains, where they adapted to the acidic, nutrient-poor soil.
However, as former backwaters became new frontiers for development, the species has been shell-shocked by builders who have drained and later refilled the bogs, wiping out entire turtle colonies in the process. Now less than an estimated 10,000 bog turtles remain on the continent, scattered from Georgia to Connecticut.
To help keep the dwindling population afloat, wildlife groups such as the Chattahoochee Nature Center in Roswell, just north of Atlanta, started breeding programs and strapped inch-long receivers to the shells of the recently released turtles to track them.
The scientists, who plan to release three more turtles this summer, hope their work will provide valuable lifesaving information on the mysterious species.
"We're at a place in the condition of the species when we still have time left," said Thomas Floyd, a Department of Natural Resources biologist.
Scientists didn't even know bog turtles lived in north Georgia until one of the turtles was accidentally caught in a bird trap in 1979. After two decades of studying the tiny turtles -- which weigh only 4 ounces -- state researchers have identified only about 50 of the wily creatures in Georgia's wild, said Ken Fahey, a biology teacher and bog turtle researcher.
The secretive turtles can be tough to spot and even tougher to nab. They roam the muddy boglands through narrow tunnels, scurrying headfirst into the mud when spotted.
"You can be right on top of them and still can't find them," Floyd said.
When they are caught, their petite size is cherished by some pet owners, who have bought bog turtles on the black market for more than $1,000 apiece, Fahey said.
Source: Associated Press