CHICAGO (CBS) — Whitney Young Magnet High School students had their hands full in southern Illinois on Friday, as they helped release endangered turtles students from across the state had adopted and raised for seven months.
WBBM Newsradio’s John Cody reports Whitney Young biology teacher Todd Katz said alligator snapper turtles are indeed ugly reptiles, which helped convince students to help boost their numbers.
“They looked at this turtle, and said, ‘This is such an ugly organism, who would possibly love it?’” Katz said.
Alligator snappers were hatched from eggs in Oklahoma and Peoria were raised from hatchlings to palm-sized turtles in classrooms at Whitney young and across the state, as part of an effort to increase their population in Illinois.
“They’re endangered, and so we have to do the best we can to help them,” said 15-year-old sophomore Shania Santana.
According to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, baby alligator snappers are vulnerable to predators, and have a very low survival rate, because they’re usually quickly eaten by larger animals. So the state helped organize a project for high school students to raise hatchlings to an age at which they’re more likely to fend for themselves.
Under the guidance of Katz and other teachers from across Illinois, students released 100 turtles on Friday at the Horeshoe Lake Nature Preserve near Miller City, at the far southern tip of the state. First, they all went for a canoe ride.
“Gently put them into the water, and let them swim away. We’ll canoe forward a few yards, put another one in,”
Shania said, while the turtles are only palm-sized, it’s still a good idea to stay away from their hook-shaped beaks.
“You have to grab the turtles from the sides, carefully, without it wanting to bite your hand or anything; so away from its mouth. You have to grab it and throw it into the water,” she said.
Before they released the turtles, tracking transmitters were glued to the reptiles’ backs. The students then painted the white glue camouflage it.
“We were going to paint it bluish greenish, so that predators won’t get to them,” Shania said.
Katz hopes to expand the program in the future.