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Alligator Snapping Turtle Rehabilitated and Returned to Wild

July 11, 2007

Birmingham, AL — In collaboration with the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ (ADCNR) Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division, the Birmingham Zoo released a rehabilitated, 70-pound alligator snapping turtle back into its wild habitat today.

Arriving at the Zoo on May 21, 2007, the turtle had a large treble hook in his throat. Being a large animal and potentially dangerous due to its size and strength, the animal needed immediate medical care from someone familiar with the native species. The hook was surgically removed and the turtle has since recovered. Based on his size and weight, the turtle is likely to be older than 55 years. This species of turtle has been known to weigh well over 100 pounds. One of the most recognizable characteristics of the species is the massive shell’s three prominent ridges that run from front to back.

“Now that the alligator snapping turtle in the Birmingham Zoo has recovered, it is being returned to the public waters of Alabama along the Black Warrior River close to where it came from,” said ADCNR Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division Wildlife Biologist Mark Sasser. “We do want to remind all anglers and outdoor enthusiasts that Alabama law makes it illegal to take, capture, kill, or sell an alligator snapping turtle. If one is accidentally caught or hooked, it must be released back into the wild.”

The Alabama native species is a species of High Conservation Concern. The alligator snapping turtle is the largest freshwater turtle in the world. The species is recovering from unmonitored exploitation for human consumption, believed to be the primary reason for population declines. Although commercial harvesting is no longer a serious threat to populations in Alabama, it may take decades for populations to recover. Habitat degradation and pollution are also thought to be factors resulting in the decline of the population. Additionally, due to the low reproductive rate of the species, added protection is needed to help increase the current low populations.

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division constantly strives to ensure protected species such as the alligator snapping turtle are given every opportunity to survive and reproduce in the wild.

The alligator snapping turtle, Macroclemys temminckii, is confined to the Gulf of Mexico drainages of the United States and is widespread in the lower Mississippi Valley. Its range extends from Georgia and northwestern Florida to eastern Texas and can be found as far north as southeast Kansas, southeast Iowa, Illinois and Indiana. Distribution in Alabama is nearly statewide. There have been no documented reports of its occurrence in the Tennessee River system in Alabama, but collections have been made from Bear Creek in Mississippi, a tributary of the Tennessee River.


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