On August 26, 2021, a team from Nashville Zoo, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA), and the Cumberland River Aquatic Center successfully released 30 alligator snapping turtles into the waters near Wolf River in West Tennessee.
16 of the 30 alligator snapping turtles released were from Nashville Zoo’s headstart program. These turtles weighed ranging from just under a kilogram to two and a half kilograms prior to release. Each turtle was given a unique individual number before release to help monitor each animals’ growth over time for future actions and continued conservation research. Katie Gregory, Nashville Zoo Herpetology Keeper, said she is proud of this project because, “we were able to see all our work come to fruition from start to finish and actually be the ones to put the turtles in the water for release.” This conservation effort allowed our team to get an in-depth look at this unique species and observe which diet, lighting, and environments are optimal for these turtles to thrive.
In 2016, we received a four-year, $40,000 grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and TWRA to collect eggs and then raise alligator snapping turtles until they were at a size fit for release. A group of hatchling turtles was shipped to us from the Tishomingo National Fish Hatchery in Oklahoma to start Nashville Zoo’s headstart program for alligator snapping turtles in our Aquatic Conservation Center. Nashville Zoo was responsible for raising these hatchlings until they were a large enough size to not be predated in the wild once released.
Alligator snapping turtles (Macrochelys temminckii) are the largest freshwater turtles in North America and are commonly found in rivers, lakes and wetlands. They are recognizable by their spiky shells which have three pointed ridges that run from head to tail. Because of range-wide declines, the USFWS will be going through a formal review process to determine if alligator snapping turtles should be added to the endangered species list within the next year. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classifies this species as vulnerable due to current threats that include habitat destruction, egg predation and low survival of babies as they are food for many species.
Stay tuned for updates on our alligator snapping turtles via our social media channels!
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