CHICAGO (CBS) — The Will County Forest Preserve District has joined a long-time DuPage County effort to preserve a type of turtle that’s native to Illinois.

img 5425 Will County Joins Effort To Preserve Endangered Species

The hatchlings are being kept at an undisclosed location for protection from poachers, but you can see Buddy, a 12-year-old Blanding’s turtle, at the Isle a la Cache Museum in Romeoville. (Photo: Bernie Tafoya/WBBM)

Known to some as “smiling turtles,” there are 49 Blanding’s turtles currently being cared for in Will County. Their shells are the size of a half-dollar coin.

“They’re in big trouble in the wild. The wild populations are not doing well,” says Chris Guttman on baby Blanding’s turtles.

Guttman, who is a facility supervisor for the Will County Forest Preserve District, says the hatchlings (young animals who have recently emerged from their eggs) will be released into the wild in about a year when they are bigger and therefore more able to fend for themselves.

“Raccoons, coyotes, skunks will raid the nests. In some areas, over 90 percent of the nests are lost. They just have too easy of access to them,” Guttman said.

He added that Blanding’s turtles have also been run over by cars, and have been part of an illegal pet trade. Taking care of the turtles for the next year will make it less likely they’ll be eaten when released.

“This helps prevent some of those early losses,” said Gutmann. “We’re giving them a fighting chance.”

Once those turtles are released, the Forest Preserve District will get another batch to shelter for a year.

Since 1996, the DuPage County Forest Preserve District has been raising baby Blanding’s and later releasing them into the wild. So far, 3,000 of the turtles have been released.

Watch & Listen LIVE