The Topeka Zoo will be teaming up with the other accredited zoos in the state of Kansas to evaluate the ornate box turtle population across the state, which is the state reptile of Kansas.

“Each one of those zoos will establish multiple survey plots or census sites in their counties where they will survey them twice a month every month during the spring, summer and fall for the next three years,” said Dennis Dinwiddie, Director of Conservation and Education at the Topeka Zoo.

New baseline ornate box turtle population is needed to guide conservation management decisions, considering the last survey was conducted in 1956 and only occurred in one county.

Each zoo participating will be setting up two census plots – one with historical records of ornate box turtle populations to confirm if the populations persist and to assess their viability, and one where their presence is unknown to protect from a biased survey.

According to a news release from the Topeka Zoo and the City of Topeka, nearly 42 percent of tortoise species are threatened with extinction.  Dinwiddie says that habitat loss, road kill and poaching have lent to the dwindling of the ornate box turtles.

The zoo is relying on anecdotal reports of the decline of the species because an official study has never been done in Kansas.

“I think many adults would realize that when they were young they could find box turtles pretty easily, it was common to see box turtles,” said Dinwiddie.  “Nowadays, however, even people who spend a great deal of time outdoors and out in the wilds of Kansas will still, only occasionally, run into an ornate box turtle maybe two or three times out of the whole season.”

Trained staff members of the zoos will be supervising the studies, but Dinwiddie says they will also be relying on the help of volunteers.

“No zoo and no agency has enough staff to be able to go out with the numbers that are needed to conduct these surveys, so we will all be depending heavily on people who are volunteering to help with this.  They’ll be coming in to be trained, and then we’ll send them out to survey sites to help find these box turtles.”

The project, which will last three years, will serve as the first viable ornate box turtle population study ever conducted in Kansas.