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SOME ZOOS NEED TO DO THEIR RESEARCH OFF-SITE (The Scientist, Vol:5, #11, pg. 10, May 27,1991) (Copyright, The Scientist, Inc.)
Conservation scientist Sandy Andalman is looking for an off-site research and breeding facility away from Seattle's Woodland Park Zoo, where she works.
She contends that such a facility is needed because of space limitations at the zoo, animal health considerations, and the fact that some animals breed better in more naturalized environments than zoos--away from contact with people and other animals.
Andalman, director of the Center for Wildlife Conservation (CWC), a not-for-profit entity affiliated with the zoo, is involved in a joint project with the state of Washington to help rehabilitate the western pond turtle population. "In Washington, we are down to 100 turtles in the wild; they are also in trouble in Oregon and California," says Andalman.
But when she and her group started to bring the turtles in for captive breeding, they realized that the animals were sick. "They couldn't float straight because their lungs were all bloated," Andalman says. "Being near them you'd hear that they were gasping for breath." Twenty-three hatchlings from the wild were also collected and kept in isolation. "These turtles, by nature, are shy. In fact their whole strategy for survival is avoiding other animals," she says.
To protect the other reptiles at the zoo and the turtles themselves, she kept the adult turtles quarantined in the zoo's animal health facility and gave them antibiotics. Of 37 adult turtles captured, 20 lived, as did all the babies. Since there was no space for the 20 eight-inch turtles at the zoo's clinic, once the adult animals were healthy, they were sent to a makeshift state facility. The babies remained at the zoo. "But the problem with [the state] facility was that emergency funds had to be found to renovate it. It was an indoor [fish] hatchery," she says. Had there been an off-site breeding and research facility, it would have had, most likely, a natural pond for reptiles and amphibia that would have saved the state time and money, says Andalman.
One of the criteria for the off-site location is having at least one natural pond that would already be a source of food. "We would have chicken wire above it to prevent raccoons from getting in," says Andalman. She is also hoping to find about 300 acres of grazeable land, "since we don't really have the money for food." And if there are buildings already on this land, that would help keep down any construction costs, she says.
The state of Washington has offered CWC 10 sites, any of which the group can have rent-free. Two other private sites Andalman is pondering would require leasing or purchase, but one has a laboratory facility. She is hoping that she can get some money from the state for one of these latter two sites.
As for the turtles, the ultimate decision rests with the state, but CWC is recommending that the state release half the hatchlings and monitor them very closely in two different locales, one being the original pond that they came from. "It is a mistake to put all our eggs, so to speak, in one basket," Andalman says.
Andalman is still concerned about disease transmission from the adults. She has recommended that four females of the 20 adults saved be encouraged to breed while the other animals just stay in the facility. Andalman says: "They are not in a situation yet where they can compete with other turtles for food and are safe from predation. We expect to return them to the wild in the spring of 1992."
As the destruction of the natural environment continues, situations similar to the western pond turtles' will arise. Says Andalman: "We will need more and more places like the one we are looking for to help them. Originally we thought that the coalition of zoos could address these kinds of problems. Now there is a public-private partnership of local, state, and federal agencies [doing so], one product of which, hopefully, will be the off-site facility."