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Southern Pacific Pond Turtle Project

Male Southern Pacific Pond Turtle, notice the pale throat and thick tail.

The Southern Pacific Pond Turtle used to be a common resident along the rivers of California, but with a 95% loss of riparian forests and the channelizing of most of California's rivers, it has become close to endangered. Along with restoration of the forest for birds and other wildlife, the Kern River Preserve is restoring ponds for turtles and other wildlife to once again flourish. The turtle project is funded by a grant from the Fish & Wildlife Foundation.

The team began refurbishing a trailer at the Kern River Preserve Headquarters in June of 2006. In November of 2006, they broke ground to build a turtle enclosure to hold adults during the breeding season and then to safeguard their eggs from predators during incubation. The team finished building the ponds in early June and then started trapping turtles to find females with eggs in June of 2007. Each turtle is carefully marked and recorded and non-gravid females and males are immediately released.  The hatchlings will be raised in captivity until they are greater than 70mm long and then will be released where the adults were originally captured. Eggs are incubated at a temperature to favor females.

Project Leaders: Bill Foster & Darrell Barnes

Staff: Jeff King, Reed Tollefson, Alison Sheehey

Volunteers: Bob Showers, Gordon Hancock, Christine Hancock, Jake Heflin, Birdie Foster, Marya Miller, Dave Kurdeka.

Turtle Project Schedule

Acquire Funding & Permits

Apply for grant from Fish & Wildlife Foundation - DONE

Apply for permits from California Dept. of Fish & Game - DONE

Research other headstart programs - Seattle Zoo, Los Angeles Zoo, and Gary Collings - DONE

Design outdoor and indoor facilities - DONE

Construction and Setup

Refurbish incubation trailer - DONE

Purchase and set up egg incubation terrariums - DONE
Dig 8ft (l) x 12ft (w) x 3ft (d) hole at Kern River Preserve - DONE
Dig narrow 20ft (l) x 24ft (w) x 2 ft (d) ditch for below ground fencing - DONE
Dig narrow (200ft) ditch for electrical lines to each pond - DONE
Connect electricity to pond areas - DONE
Dig narrow (200ft) ditch for water lines to each pond - DONE
Connect water to pond areas - DONE

Install pond liners - DONE
Build stream section - DONE
Install pump and filtration system - DONE
Add native plants and rocks to pond areas - DONE
Fill ponds with water - DONE

Milestone 1: Incubation Area and Pond Area Complete

Egg Collection & Incubation

Collect eggs from gravid females and then release - in progress
Transport gravid females to veterinarian for x-ray and shots - in progress
Survey population and do population study - DONE
Begin Egg Incubation (80-100 days) - first hatchling 3 October 2007, 5th hatchling 11 October

Begin Egg Incubation (80-100 days) - 31 eggs hatched in 2008. DONE

Begin Egg Incubation (80-100 days) - 11 eggs incubated in 2009 - 8 eggs hatched. DONE

Begin Egg Incubation (80-100 days) - 17 eggs incubated in 2010 - 16 eggs hatched. DONE

Milestone 2: Eggs Collected

Hatching and Care in Enclosed Pond
As eggs hatch, introduce juvenile turtles to pond enclosure - five hatchlings released to enclosure from 2007 season in 2008. DONE
Provide food to juvenile turtles and maintain clean pool environment - DONE

As eggs hatch, introduce juvenile turtles to pond enclosure in 2009 - thirty-one more hatchlings released to enclosure from 2008 season. DONE

Eight hatchlings put into the enclosure in 2010. DONE.

Milestone 3: Turtles Hatch & Begin to Grow

Growth in enclosure and Release to the Wild

Maintain clean, safe, and food-rich environment for juvenile turtles as they grow
Release turtles into the wild when they reach adequate size of at least 508 millimeters or 70 grams. The juveniles will be marked to keep track of their progress.

Eleven hatchlings were released to the wild in May 2009. DONE

Six hatchlings released to the wild in June 2010. DONE

All turtles should have grown to adequate size and be in the wild at this time. However, if there are turtles that have yet to reach adequate size, those turtles can remain in the enclosed pond area while they continue to grow. Clean and safe environment with adequate food supply to be maintained for turtles as long as it is needed.

Milestone 4: All turtles grown to size and released into the wild

Conclusion of Project

See: for information on another headstart program.

Turtle Pages

Southern Pacific Pond Turtle Project on the Kern River Preserve


Photo Journal

Turtle Trailer & Staking Out

Breaking Ground

Digging the Ponds 

Trenching Electrical & Water Lines

Burying the Anti-predator Wire

Contouring the Ponds

Pouring Concrete

More Construction Photos

Framing up & wire walls Up

Capturing Turtles

Measuring & Recording Turtles

Turtles get a temporary new home

Gravid female, eggs and hatchlings

Biology of Southern Pacific Pond Turtles

Kern River Research Station Turtle Project

A male hatching Southern Pacific Pond Turtle.

Female Southern Pacific Pond Turtle notice the thin tail and the spotted throat.


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This site was created on October 21, 1998. Please Email to make comments or offer suggestions.