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Federally-Protected Loggerhead Turtle to Return to Florida August 10


August 9, 2005

Contacts: Scott Flaherty, 612-713-5309 or 612-242-5800 cell
Tom MacKenzie, 404-679-7291 or 678-296-6400 cell

A loggerhead turtle brought illegally to Minnesota as a baby from a beach in southern Florida will soon return home thanks to the Minnesota Zoo, Sun Country Airlines and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

On Wednesday, August 10, the turtle and its escort from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will board an early morning flight to Fort Myers, Florida, courtesy of Sun Country Airlines who donated the tickets.  

“We will provide this passenger with top-notch service,” said Sun Country’s Chief Operating Officer Shaun Nugent. “We pride ourselves on giving all of our passengers a great experience and although a rare loggerhead turtle does not fit our usual customer profile, this will be no exception.”

Upon arrival in Florida, the turtle will be transported to the Naples Nature Center operated by the Conservancy of South West Florida, a non-profit organization that specializes in conservation and rehabilitation of Florida’s sea turtles and other wildlife.  The turtle will remain at the Center for about one year, when it is large enough to survive on its own in the wild.

The turtle has been at the Minnesota Zoo since September, 2004, when Zoo aquarists received a call from the Service’s law enforcement office in St. Paul which had confiscated a one-week old loggerhead turtle that was smuggled to Minnesota from a beach in Sanibel Island, Florida.  The turtle needed to be cared for until the legal issues surrounding the case could be resolved–and Zoo staff agreed to help.  Just the size of a 50-cent piece and weighing only ½ ounce, the young turtle arrived at the Zoo and was promptly housed in a 70-gallon glass aquarium in a holding area where it was fed and cared for. After outgrowing its space, the turtle was transferred to a 200-gallon fiberglass aquarium, then to a 150-gallon glass tank in Discovery Bay so it could be exhibited to the public. The turtle now weighs about 8 pounds.

Loggerhead turtles are listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act and protected by federal and state laws.  It is unlawful to touch or disturb nesting sea turtles, hatchlings, or their nests.  Federal law prohibits the illegal take, possession, and transport or trade of loggerhead turtles without a permit.  Violators face a maximum of one year in prison and/or a $100,000 fine for each offense.  In a previous case, an Ohio schoolteacher was fined $2,800 for illegally taking eggs from a nest on Florida’s East Coast in 2001.  Some of those eggs later hatched, and the hatchlings were repatriated into the Atlantic.
“When people travel to Florida and other exotic locations they should enjoy the wildlife they encounter but they should leave it alone and don’t bring it home.  It’s not healthy for the wildlife, and in most cases it’s illegal,” said MaryJane Lavin, special agent in charge of the Service’s Division of Wildlife in the Twin Cities.  

Loggerhead turtles get their name from their broad head. An adult loggerhead will have between a 2 ½ foot–3 ½ foot long carapace (shell) length and will weigh approximately 350 pounds. Adult loggerheads are primarily carnivorous with their favorite food items being shellfish, horseshoe crabs, clams, mussels, and other invertebrates.  Major threats to the loggerhead population include fishing, pollution, and development of shorelines. Buildings and lighting both reduce the amount of appropriate nesting habitats.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 95-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System, which encompasses 545 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 69 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resources offices and 81 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign and Native American tribal governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Assistance program, which distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.

Loggerhead baby - Threatened loggerhead sea turtle taken from Southwest Florida.  Photo by the Minnesota Zoo.
Loggerhead baby - Threatened loggerhead sea turtle taken from Southwest Florida.  Photo by the Minnesota Zoo.
Threatened loggerhead sea turtle that will be rehabilitated at the Naples Nature Center, operated by the Conservancy of South West Florida. Photo taken June 2005 by the Minnesota Zoo.
Threatened loggerhead sea turtle that will be rehabilitated at the Naples Nature Center, operated by the Conservancy of South West Florida. Photo taken June 2005 by the Minnesota Zoo.


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