Are North Carolina’s Box Turtles in Trouble?

The Eastern Box Turtle is North Carolina’s state reptile and one of the most recognizable critters on the East Coast. But Sara Steffen, conservation coordinator at the Piedmont Wildlife Center, says there’s cause for concern.

“If you talk to people who have lived here their entire lives, they used to see box turtles all the time in their yards, and now the people who used to see them all the time, aren’t,” says Steffen. “We believe they’re in decline.”

She and others across the state are participating in a 100-year study to track the box turtle population.

“There are lots of ‘predators’ for them, like habitat loss and cars on the road and people stealing them to become pets, things like that,” says Steffen. “That, we believe, is why they are declining. Unfortunately we don’t have all the data yet to back that up, which is what we’re working on now.”

The Box Turtle Connection study was launched in 2007. It is a collaboration between researchers at UNC-Greensboro, the Piedmont Wildlife Center, numerous state parks and others to mark and release as many turtles as possible.

“We actually go out and every turtle we find we give them little notches on their shells,” says Steffen. “The notches we give them represent basically a three-letter code, so that if we see it again in the wild we know that we’ve already marked that turtle.”

But in order to get the full picture of the species’ range and habits, conservationists need help from citizen scientists.

“All you have to do is take a picture of the top of the shell, take a picture of the bottom of the shell, and email us those photos with either the address or the GPS location of where they are found. That will help us get a better census of the box turtles within the entire Triangle.”

Turtles have distinctive markings on their shells; no two are alike. The photos will help identify individual turtles and add to the project’s database. Steffen says this information could determine the future protection status of the box turtle.

“Right now in North Carolina, you can take up to five reptiles, any reptile, out of the wild, whether it’s to make it a pet, or to eat it, or whatever you want to do with it,” says Steffen. “That includes box turtles because they don’t have any protection status, so we’re hoping if we can get this data that shows they are declining, we can go to the legislature with some kind of bill to try to get them at least a species of concern, if not a protected species, if that’s what’s happening.”

If you see a turtle, alive or dead, in your neighborhood, you can email photos of the top and bottom of the shell to the Piedmont Wildlife Center for inclusion in the study.

Send your turtle pictures here.

“People who have very small backyards, especially in the inner city or more suburban areas- they could really help with this project,” says Steffen.

If enough people participate, Steffen says researchers may be able to create a turtle recognition app for your phone to automatically scan the shell patterns and identify specific turtles.

“The more people that get involved with this citizens science project, the more data we can put into creating a photo ID app. Then you would just be able to take your camera and line it up to the box turtle and say, ‘Yep, this is the same turtle. That’s Susie that was here last year,’ or ‘No, that’s a completely new turtle and I have a larger population in my yard than I thought I did.’”

You can find more tips on how to help box turtles here.

Piedmont Wildlife Center Holds 12th Annual Auction

Next Saturday, the Durham Armory is the place to be for a the 12th annual auction benefiting the Piedmont Wildlife Center.

“What we’re really trying to do is get people to get outside and get into nature, get some sunlight, and get some fresh air,” said Gail Abrams, executive director of the Piedmont Wildlife Center, describing its mission in a recent discussion with WCHL.

The center is holding its annual Celebrate Wildlife Gala & Auction at the Durham Armory in Downtown Durham, beginning at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 22.

In addition to connecting people with nature and wildlife, the PWC at 364 Leigh Farm Rd. in Durham educates the public about conservation issues, and how we can all do a better job of protecting wildlife.

“Our primary programs are kids’ camps that we do year-round – weeklong camps, sometimes one or two day camps on holidays,” said Abrams. “We also have adult programs on the weekends.

“We do birthday parties. We go out to schools, and do school programs and assemblies. We have afterschool programs.”

Next Saturday’s benefit event at the Durham Armory will be emcee’d by WCHL’s own Aaron Keck, with music from Rootzie.

“We’ll have live animals that will be there as part of our Wildlife Ambassadors,” said Abrams. “We have a silent auction with about 200 items available; and a live auction with about 10 really wonderful, great things to bid on.

“We’ve got a cash bar with a bunch of homebrewed local beer that will be there, and provided by a couple of our volunteers.”

Items in the live auction include Disney World tickets, an autographed Carolina Hurricanes hockey stick, and four days including three nights on Figure Eight Island, just north of Wrightsville Beach.

There are hundreds of items in the silent auction, which is underway. The first bidder on any of those items is automatically entered into a drawing for a 64-gigabyte iPad mini 3.

Tickets for the four-hour event are $50, and are available here.

Piedmont Wildlife Holds Fundraising Gala Event

CHAPEL HILL – Piedmont Wildlife Center is “celebrating wildlife” at a fundraising gala on November 23 from 6:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. at the Durham Armory.

The Celebrate Wildlife gala event will have plenty to offer patrons with a silent auction, food, desserts, craft beers and wine, along with some wildlife ambassadors–including hawks and owls.  Piedmont’s Education and Volunteer Coordinator, Karen McCall, says some of the wildlife ambassadors there will be hawks and owls.

“Those are birds that we use in our education programs,” says Karen McCall, Piedmont’s education and volunteer coordinator. “They’ve been found and brought to rehabilitate, but because of injury or illness could not be released–and so they are ambassadors for their species.”

“Celebrate Wildlife” is Piedmont Wildlife Center’s big fundraiser for the year.  McCall says the money raised from this event will help benefit some of their afterschool and summer programs.

“The money we raise provides scholarships for kids to attend…those programs, for us to even bring a program to a school,” she says.

A silent auction at the event will offer a wide variety of options for patrons to bid on–including a vacation to Emerald Isle, kayaking, and an aquarium visit.

“One of the really neat items we have this year is a hot air balloon ride,” McCall says. “For two or four people, you can choose from 200 locations around the country.”

Tickets are available for the event online or over the phone.

WCHL’s own Aaron Keck will Emcee the event.

For more information click here.