In 2016, Nashville Zoo planned, proposed and received a four-year, $40,000 grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency to develop a head-start and release program for the Alligator Snapping Turtle.
In September 2016, the Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency flew in 30 hatchling Alligator Snapping Turtles from Tishomingo National Fish Hatchery in Oklahoma. Nashville Zoo took the responsibility of keeping them healthy in a safe environment until they are old enough to be released back into the wild. Once the turtles reach three years old, their chances for survival greatly increase because they will be too big to be hunted by most predators.
To continue Nashville Zoo’s work with the species, the herpetology supervisor and a herpetology keeper traveled to Gallatin, TN to meet up with TWRA agents. The agents had just arrived from Tishomingo National Fish Hatchery and hand delivered 30 hatchling turtles to join the collection already living in our Aquatic Conservation Center here at Nashville Zoo.
During their stay at Nashville Zoo, the Alligator Snapping Turtles became accustomed to different diet studies. One group is raised on a pelleted food diet, while the other group is currently being raised on a cubed food diet. The ingredients and nutrients are the same in both, however, they are different shapes. Doing this allows keepers to monitor their weight and growth and figure out which diet is optimal. The turtles are also exposed to different lighting and water temperature in an attempt to have an understanding of the best environment for them to be released back into. Viewing their responses to these elements will also help biologists be able to find more Alligator Snapping Turtles in the wild.
When the Alligator Snapping Turtles reach the age of three or four, they will be released back into streams where they have been found historically. Before their release, it will be confirmed the environment is sustainable, with plenty of food sources and places to hide. The turtles will be monitored over time to determine the success of the project at different sites after they’re released. Nashville Zoo is excited to be an intricate part of the protection and conservation of Alligator Snapping Turtles native to Tennessee and around the region.