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Alligator Snapping Turtle Translocation/Reintroduction
Southwest Region, February 8, 2007
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Richard Stark of the Oklahoma ES Field Office attended a presentation and meeting at the Tulsa Zoo regarding a potential alligator snapping turtle (AST) reintroduction effort in eastern Oklahoma.  ASTs have experienced population declines in recent decades primarily due to commercial harvest.  Recent survey efforts indicate dramatic population declines have taken place in Oklahoma.  Day Ligon (AST biologist and PhD student from the Department of Zoology at Oklahoma State University) presented information on the ongoing conservation efforts for this species in the state which include a captive propagation and headstart program at the Tishomingo National Fish Hatchery.  An additional possible conservation measure was discussed which would involve the release of reproductively mature ASTs to areas where the species has been extirpated and in areas with low numbers to reinforce remnant populations that are unlikely to rebound without intervention.  Adult ASTs are available for this effort due to the confiscation of about 1,100 adult ASTs from a turtle farm in Arkansas by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission during Fall 2006.  The turtles were confiscated due to the expiration of the facility‚Äôs permit and because the farm was holding turtles in excess of the permit allowance.  AGFC allowed the farm to reclaim about 800 ASTs after they renewed their permit, leaving about 300 individuals without a home.  They are currently being held at a hatchery in Arkansas.  These animals possibly could be used for the translocation effort.  All were wild caught in Arkansas.  The population genetics concern has been addressed due to the results of a recent in-depth genetic analysis which indicates that populations throughout the Mississippi River Drainage are genetically indistinct from each other.  A health screening and sex ratio determination will occur in February 2007 as the next step to determine the feasibility of the project and determine the risk of introducing pathogens or parasites to wild turtle populations. A meeting to discuss possible release sites and logistics of the effort among the Service, the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, Oklahoma State University, and other interested and pertinent parties also is planned.  Should the project proceed, funding for post-release monitoring studies also will be sought.                   

Contact Info: Martin Valdez, 505-248-6599, martin_valdez@fws.gov



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