Endangered turtles find new home at Nonnewaug High

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Endangered turtles find new home at Nonnewaug High



Caring for two endangered Asian turtles are Nonnewaug High agriscience students (from left) junior Kristal-Anne Curry and senior Raine Wood. Steve Bigham Republican-American

WOODBURY — The animal science lab at the agriscience program at Nonnewaug High School is now home to a collection of endangered turtles, some of which have been declared extinct in the wild.

Agriscience students there are taking part in a breeding and incubating program as part of a worldwide effort to save certain species of Asian turtles. They are the only high schoolers in the country involved with the project that includes the construction of a Chelonian Education Lab to teach about the importance of conservation.

The turtles are on loan from the TurtleRoom, an organization that focuses on the education, preservation and conservation of turtles.

Animal science teacher Michael Lavoie was instrumental in bringing the turtles to the school and said students are being taught conservation and preservation as part of the school’s curriculum with all grades working toward a common goal.

“There’s a little bit of preservation here, but it’s mostly education,” Lavoie said. “Our hope is that they lay eggs and we can start incubating them.”

Ellis Clark Director Ed Belinsky said there are also opportunities for cross curricular work in the lab with students from the high school’s science department also taking part.

Among the species currently being cared for in the lab is the Red Necked Pond Turtle (Mauremys nigricans), which is functionally extinct in the wild. For decades, it was thought to have been completely extinct before being rediscovered in wildlife markets in China, according to theTurtleRoom’s Anthony Pierlioni, who visited the lab Friday to offer up advice.

Also in the lab is the Yellow Blotched Map Turtle (Graptemys flavimaculata), a rare breed with a small range. Pierlioni said this turtle is almost always tied to tributaries of flowing rivers. As the path of rivers change, so too do the genetics of map turtles that use these areas, making them a great candidate for student learning and research.

Then there is the Ambonia Box Turtle (Cuora amboinensis karmaroma), which, Pierlioni said, is one of the more confusing species around, with a large range and in dire need of more genetic research and population surveying.

The turtle habitats were built by students based on specifications provided by theTurtleRoom, which is acting as a consultant for the project.

Lavoie said he hopes the project advances to the point where upperclassmen may be able to publish scientific papers on their turtle findings.

Turtle expert Anthony Pierlioni inspects an endangered Asian turtle inside the animal lab at Nonnewaug High School in Woodbury Friday. Looking on is animal science teacher Michael Lavoie. Steve Bigham Republican-American


Nonnewaug High School senior Milana Jaffin holds one of several Asian turtles now being studied in the schools animal science lab, most of which are completely extinct in the wild. Steve Bigham Republican-American


Nonnewaug High School is now home to numerous endangered turtles, including this young leopard tortoise, which can grow to be as big as 150 pounds and live for more than a century. Steve Bigham Republican-American