Extremely rare and critically imperiled turtles rehabilitated by San Antonio Zoo, released back in Texas watering hole

Turtles spent 3.5 years in rehabilitation, zoo officials said

SAN ANTONIO – Six extremely rare, rough-footed mud turtles that were found critically imperiled near Marfa in 2018 have been released back into the Texas wild.

Jennifer Smith, a professor at the University of New Mexico Alamogordo, discovered the turtles at the Fuentez family’s Los Alamos Ranch in very poor health.

Poor water quality in the pond the turtles were found in, as well as an opportunistic parasite and skin infections, threatened the turtle’s lives when they were first discovered, according to San Antonio Zoo spokesperson Hope Roth.

Rough-footed mud turtles are extremely rare and critically imperiled as a species due to less water on the landscape and changes to their native habitats, according to San Antonio Zoo. (San Antonio Zoo)

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department officials took the six turtles to the Center for Conservation and Research at San Antonio Zoo in 2018 where they spent the next 3.5 years with a rehabilitation team.

During the course of the turtle’s rehabilitation, the pond on the Fuentez family ranch was also rehabilitated so that the turtles could be released back into their initial habitat.

“This project is a perfect example of successful and impactful collaborative conservation. It demonstrates how private landowners, academic researchers, government agencies, and zoos — all working together — can secure a future for even the most obscure and imperiled wildlife species,” said Andy Gluesenkamp, the director for the Center for Conservation and Research.

The rehabilitation and release of the rough-footed turtles is one of the dozens of conservation initiatives the San Antonio Zoo participates in to help wild populations of animals.

San Antonio Zoo has also been instrumental in helping the whooping crane, the tallest and rarest bird in North America, make a slow and steady comeback from the brink of extinction.

“I am very proud of our conservation team, and as a Texan, I am especially proud we were able to help save this group right here in our own state,” zoo President and CEO Tim Morrow said of the turtles. “For San Antonio Zoo, this is a special call to action for us to step in and assist before these species become endangered.”

The Fuentez family released a statement after the turtles were returned to their pond and said they “hope this lesson and legacy to give back to nature is something that our children and our grandchildren will adopt and continue at Los Alamos Ranch.”

“We are proud to be stewards of the land, to respect and conserve what has been here for hundreds of years before us and will continue to be well beyond our lifetime,” the Fuentez family said in the statement.

Before being released back at Los Alamos Ranch, the turtles were weighed, measured, microchipped, and received clearance from San Antonio Zoo’s veterinary team.

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About the Author:

Mary Claire Patton has been a journalist with KSAT 12 since 2015. She has reported on several high-profile stories during her career at KSAT and specializes in trending news and things to do around Texas and San Antonio.