Mianus River Gorge partners with conservation organizations throughout the region to survey breeding populations of box turtles and wood turtles. These species are on the special concern list for New York State. Populations in Westchester have been decimated by habitat loss and fragmentation; lack of protected nesting sites; and illegal collecting, much of it for the pet trade.
Counting the exact number of turtles in a given area is a challenge due to the difficulty of identifying individual turtles. MRG staff use shell pattern recognition to monitor populations of wood and box turtles in the region. Each turtle has a unique set of markings on its carapace (top shell) and plastron (bottom shell). We photograph both top and bottom shells, note the sex, and the time and location where we find each turtle. We are then able to monitor individual turtles over the years to assess the overall population and work on ways to protect them.
A relatively new—and fun–technique used to find turtles is with the help of Conservation Dogs. Trained dogs can smell and detect twice the number of plants and animals that humans can observe with our eyes. Mianus River Gorge staff and summer interns were invited to watch “Peat” and his handler in action this past summer. Peat was being trained to find elusive turtles, which can then be documented as described above. Peat found two turtles that day.