Why was the Oakland Zoo at the 4th Annual Beaver Festival in Martinez? No, the Zoo doesn’t have beavers, but it does have Western Pond Turtles which rely on beaver habitat. The event was a wonderful opportunity to create awareness about the Zoo’s Western Pond Turtle Head Start Program and the conservation efforts involved to protect the only aquatic turtle native to California. The Oakland Zoo along with many other environmental organizations participated in this festival to create awareness about native species in the Bay Area and the fragile ecosystems where the animals live.
In October of 2007 several beavers took up residence in Alhambra Creek, which is in the downtown area of Martinez, and this caused a controversy. Immediately, members of the community felt strongly about keeping the habitat intact and finding a way to co-exist with the beavers. However, the dam was reported to pose a flooding hazard and the animals were scheduled to be eradicated. Concerned residents took action and formed a non-profit organization “Worth a dam” to help maintain the population of beavers in Martinez through education and practicing humane environmentalism. A special flow device was installed in the creek to manage the dam and the outcome was a success!
Beavers are a “Keystone species” in North America because they play a critical role in biodiversity and many species rely on beaver ponds for survival. The Western Pond Turtle will use beaver burrows and lodges to seek refuge, and the ponds provide a rich source of food for turtles, because they attract frogs, fish, and insects.
Oakland Zoo Docent Cindy Margulis and I brought “Dilbert,” the Zoo’s non-releasable turtle ambassador to the festival. Dilbert was a hit, teaching people about the importance of protecting Western Pond Turtles, which are a ‘species of special concern’ in California. What made the experience even more memorable for the kids was a “Keystone species” charm bracelet designed specifically for the festival. We gave each child a turtle charm when they came up to the Zoo’s booth. The children then told us about the relationship between beavers and turtles.
Cindy and I were really inspired to see how a small group of people can make a positive change. The Zoo’s Western Pond Turtle Head Start Program continues to be a success. Since 2008, Zoo staff, along with researchers from Sonoma State, have released eighty-one turtles back into the wild. The program is a joint effort with the San Francisco Zoo and Sonoma State that brings people together to help preserve a species and its habitat, so that future generations of have the opportunity to enjoy this magnificent aquatic turtle.
If you are interested in learning more about the Western Pond Turtle Head Start Program or other conservations projects, please visit our website at www.oaklandzoo.org.