Behind the Exhibit: Newborn turtles helping to save several species

Behind the Exhibit: Newborn turtles helping to save several species (KTUL)

Our visit behind the scenes today looks more like a nursery than a typical exhibit.

"We have a bunch of eastern box turtles and endangered black-breasted leaf turtles," said Herpetologist Chris Williams at the Tulsa Zoo.

Those black-breasted leaf turtles being born is a big deal. The father of these turtles is, in fact, from the last clutch of leaf turtles that were hatched at the zoo. It's been several years.

There are 28 species of turtles here at the Tulsa Zoo, and 24 of them are threatened, endangered, or critically endangered. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums has established several species' survival plans or SSPS to protect those species and get them breeding.

The Tulsa Zoo participates as much as they can.

"In the wild, these animals are being collected for pet trade, medicinal purposes. By us having these animals, we are creating a Noah's Ark effect. We are keeping these animals so we can trade with other zoos and institutions that want to breed these species, so we can ensure the survivability of these species," said Erik Kalen, the supervisor of herpetology.

But breeding these turtles and tortoises isn't easy.

First, you have to keep the males and females separated. That's why Casanova is all by himself. They won't have eggs if they are together 24/7 and that's just the start.

"You need space; the husbandry has to be right. They won't breed if the correct husbandries aren't there. Temperature, humidity, size, all of that comes into play when breeding them," said Williams.

It takes patience too, but when you have a successful clutch, they say it's worth it.