Heartland has been in engaged in the Operation
Endangered Species, an initiative that aims to save the alligator
snapping turtle while engaging students.
Spearheaded by Pontiac Township High School teacher and HCC College
NOW instructor Paul Ritter, Operation Endangered Species works with
the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to reestablish the
alligator snapping turtle to its historic Illinois home.
Participating schools raise the turtles until they are mature enough
to survive in the wild.
“Operation Endangered Species is a way for students throughout
Illinois to work on bringing back a species on the threatened or
endangered list,” said Ritter. “It’s exciting to see kids engaged in
Heartland received the proper permits in summer 2016 and two arrived
that spring after hatching at the St. Louis Zoo. The job of
Heartland faculty and biology students: foster the turtles to a
healthy size to be introduced into their native home range.
Ritter noted that in the wild very young Alligator
Snapping Turtles have a high mortality rate, so nurturing the
turtles until they are larger and can fend off predators. That can
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“You start to get them to age three to five and pretty much
nothing messes with them anymore,” said Ritter.
HCC’s Associate Director of the Science Lab, Janet Beach-Davis, is thrilled to
be part of the initiative. “These animals are predators. Without predators, it’s
hard to maintain an ecosystem,” she said. “We’re trying to restore the ecosystem
and being part of something like that is fantastic.”
Beach-Davis adds the turtles grow slowly, and not always at the same rate. Once
the reptiles are large enough, they are handed off to Ritter to work with the
IDNR for release.
The next scheduled release of the program’s Alligator Snapping Turtles is in
Director, Public Information
Heartland Community College
Photo credit: Audrey Stickrod]