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Turtles, trouble and teens

It’s no secret that Ohio’s turtles are in trouble. When an Ohio herpetologist contacted the Zoo for some help, ZOOTeens were ready – and the project was so successful that it has inspired a youth summer camp.


“The wet meadow habitat associated with the Oak Openings Region is some of our best spotted turtle habitat,” Kent Bekker says.
Photo: Chris Hoving/flickr,
creative commons license

Rows of spotted turtle decoys await their use in the field. ZOOTeens used images of the turtles' markings to create these decoys from toys of red-eared slider turtles. Photo: Kent Bekker

Humanely trapping the turtles in funnel traps, like this one, will help herpetologists estimate their health and population numbers in specific habitats. Photo: Kent Bekker

Herpetologists measure the shell of a painted turtle that was recently caught in a funnel trap.
Photo: Kent Bekker

This project is part of the Zoo's Wild Toledo initiative to identify and restore native habitat for local wildlife.


Turtles are tricky animals to catch. Although they’re slow-moving, they often keep to themselves and are hesitant to enter situations that they think look risky. Even something beneficial, like catching them to survey their health and numbers, requires a (humane) turtle trap that they don’t want to enter.

Spotted turtles and Blanding's turtles are of special interest. “They are state-listed in Ohio as threatened species,” Kent Bekker, one of the Zoo’s herpetologists, explains. “With habitat fragmentation, a lot of the historic populations are no longer intact, so we’re trying to determine where they still are and if we can find new habitats for them.”

Research has shown that spotted turtles, in particular, are more likely to enter traps where they think another turtle is already inside waiting. Using a turtle decoy should be easy, right? Not really. No one at the Zoo or in other herpetological groups could find any spotted turtle decoys.

Greg Lipps, an Ohio herpetologist and former Toledo Zoo staffer, had an idea: buy some turtle toys and repaint them to look like spotted turtles.

But it wasn’t that simple. “No toy manufacturer makes an appropriate spotted turtle,” Kent says.

He and Greg did find some red-eared slider turtle toys which were about the right size. Transforming 75 of them into spotted turtle decoys, though, would take one or two people quite a long time.

Through some brainstorming, they came up with a plan: use the Zoo’s retail contacts to get the turtle toys at the best price, then get ZOOTeens for the painting.


The Zoo relies on more than 300 hard-working teen volunteers who help with everything from community outreach to sharing biofacts with visitors to – now – painting spotted turtle decoys.

“ZOOTeens’ dedication to local conservation made this an easy choice,” Kent says. “Some of the teens had a specific art interest, too, so it was a nice little niche for them. And this first came up during the winter months, where there was a little less for them to do.”

It took six ZOOTeens just two days to paint the decoys, using photos that Greg provided. He was able to put them to immediate use in the field throughout this spring, humanely trapping spotted turtles to learn more about their population numbers.

Jr. Field Researcher

As all this was happening, Josh Minor, the Zoo’s manager of Education programs, was finalizing the Zoo’s summer camps. Discussions with Kent about the spotted turtle painting project inspired another idea – why not offer local young people (ages 11-14) an opportunity to get involved, hands-on, in helping wildlife?

Just like that, Jr. Field Researcher camp was added to the schedule.
The projects will focus on the Oak Openings Region and the Lake Erie marshes, Kent says. “We’ll definitely be running some traps for Blanding’s turtles,” he says, along with radio telemetry of eastern fox snakes or Blanding’s turtles.


Space is available in the next Jr. Field Researcher camp
(July 22-26). Reserve a spot today for the young conservationist
in your life.

Learn more about this area's turtle species at the Zoo's native turtle feeds, every Monday at 2:30 p.m. Check out the whole schedule of animal feeds, demonstrations and encounters, free with regular Zoo admission, at toledozoo.org/feedings.



Photo, above: Blanding's turtle. Photo: Kent Bekker

Banner photo, top of page: Blanding's turtle. Photo: Kandace York

Save with
group discounts


Tasty meal,
fun ostrich feed



Planning a family reunion, club picnic or other big gathering? Combine it with a trip to the Zoo and save! Discounted admission rates are available for groups of 20 or more (children under age 2 are admitted free).

When you register your group in advance, each person saves $2 off his or her Zoo ticket (groups not registered in advance save $1 per ticket).

To learn more, call the Zoo's Group Sales team at 419.385.5721, extension 6001, Monday through Friday between 8 am and 5 pm.

More discounts are listed at toledozoo.org/discounts.



Don't just grab lunch -- have an adventure!

Picnic on Safari is a full-service dining experience available only by advance reservation. You'll enjoy a tasty meal served at the panoramic Africa! Overlook.

The meal concludes with an optional opportunity to go behind-the-scenes and hand-feed one of the Zoo's ostriches.

Your Picnic on Safari experience also helps wild ostriches. Partial proceeds from each reservation help red-necked ostriches, which have disappeared in about 95 percent of their range and are almost extinct from the African nation of Niger.


Your status as a Toledo Zoo member earns you half-price admission to 140+ zoos and aquariums throughout the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

For more information, including a full list of participating zoos, visit toledozoo.org/membership. If you’re planning to visit another zoo, please check with that zoo beforehand about their admission policy.

Any time you have questions about your membership benefits, feel free to contact the Membership Department at 419.385.5721, ext. 6002 or email us at membership@toledozoo.org.


We hope you have a great week. Come see us soon!

Upcoming events (see the full schedule)
Daily, 10am to 4pm: polar bear cubs on exhibit in Arctic Encounter®
Now through Sept. 2: behind-the-scenes tours
Now through Sept. 2: Wild Walkabout, presented by Mercy
Now through Sept. 2: natural feeds and animal demonstrations begin
July 19: Watch it Grow garden tour native plants
July 26: Buddy Guy concert

Daily, 2pm: live animal shows in Nature's Neighborhood
July 19: Family Snooze G'day, mate!
July 30: Big Time Rush concert

Camps , classes and more
June 8 - Aug. 3 (Saturdays): Stroller Safari
July 8-12: Journey through the Outback (ages 6-10)
July 15-19: Polar Opposites (ages 6-10)
July 15-19: Splash Bash! (ages 6-7)
July 15-19: Just Like Me (ages 4-5)
July 22-26: Junior Field Researcher (ages 11-14)
July 22-26: Nature's Got Talent (ages 6-10)
July 29-Aug. 2: Journey through the Outback (ages 6-10)
July 29-Aug. 2: Splash Bash! (ages 6-7)



For more information about any of the Zoo’s programs or services, please call 419.385.5721 or visit toledozoo.org.

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