AZA News Releases

AZA-Accredited Zoos and Aquariums Invite Public to Join in Taking Action to Help Western Pond Turtle

Silver Spring, MD – On World Turtle Day®, zoos and aquariums accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) are highlighting conservation efforts protecting Western pond turtles and are encouraging the public to join in taking action to help save the species from extinction.

“While AZA-accredited facilities continue to collaborate with other conservation organizations to protect the Western pond turtle, the support of the public is crucial to helping to save this species on World Turtle Day® and throughout the rest of the year,” said Kris Vehrs, Interim President and CEO of AZA.

Found in Washington, Oregon, California, and Baja California, the Western pond turtle population in Washington once declined to only 150 individuals. Conservation efforts have increased the number to approximately 800 to 1,200 individuals. While the population is thought to be stable in southern Oregon and northern California, it is declining elsewhere in its range due to habitat loss, predation, and disease.

Between 2010 and 2014, the AZA community contributed more than $600,000 to field conservation projects benefiting Western pond turtles. The focus of these recovery projects includes headstarting: raising the hatchlings in optimal conditions for their first year so they are not predated upon by other species.

Additionally, AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums, and other like-minded organizations, are collaborating through a bold effort focused on saving species from extinction and restoring them in their natural ranges. AZA SAFE: Saving Animals From Extinction (SAFE) combines the power of engaging 183 million annual AZA-accredited zoo and aquarium visitors with the collective expertise of these facilities and their conservation partners to save signature species, including the Western pond turtle. SAFE also provides a unique platform for AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums to increase the collective impact of their field conservation efforts and conservation contributions through conservation action plans (CAPs).

“A little over a year ago, the first-ever gathering of organizations working on saving Western pond turtles was convened at Oakland Zoo in Oakland, California. At that meeting, science-based collaborative projects were developed to help save Western pond turtles range-wide,” said Debborah Luke, Ph.D., Senior VP of Conservation and Science at AZA. “By working together, our goal is to save the Western pond turtle from extinction and protect them for future generations.”

The SAFE Western Pond Turtle CAP focuses on: developing and implementing effective methods for identifying, treating and/or preventing a currently unidentified shell disease in Washington state;  addressing knowledge gaps about Western pond turtle distribution; and establishing a Western Pond Turtle Rangewide Conservation Coalition to organize conservation efforts range-wide, among other initiatives.

To help make a difference for Western pond turtles on World Turtle Day® and every day, the public is encouraged to:

  • Access Unite For Literacy’s free Western pond turtle digital children’s book to help teach kids about this species:
  • Share information about Western pond turtles on social media to help raise awareness about this species and the threats that they are facing.
  • Be sure to never take turtles from the wild or release animals into local habitats.

For more information about AZA SAFE and how to help Western pond turtles and other species, please visit:

 About AZA

Founded in 1924, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the advancement of zoos and aquariums in the areas of conservation, animal welfare, education, science, and recreation. AZA is the accrediting body for the top zoos and aquariums in the United States and eight other countries. Look for the AZA accreditation logo whenever you visit a zoo or aquarium as your assurance that you are supporting a facility dedicated to providing excellent care for animals, a great experience for you, and a better future for all living things. The AZA is a leader in saving species and your link to helping animals all over the world. To learn more, visit

About SAFE: Saving Animals From Extinction

SAFE: Saving Animals From Extinction combines the power of zoo and aquarium visitors with the resources and collective expertise of AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums and partners to save animals from extinction. Together we are working on saving the most vulnerable wildlife species from extinction and protecting them for future generations. To learn more, visit

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