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Forest Park takes stock of its turtles to create better wildlife habitat

Forest Park Forever Nature Works field coordinator Billy Haag holds a turtle trap at a manmade waterway in the park.
Courtesy of Forest Park Forever
Forest Park Forever Nature Works field coordinator Billy Haag holds a turtle trap at a manmade waterway in the park.

Scientists have started to take stock of the turtles that live in Forest Park to protect them from upcoming construction projects and improve their habitat.

The project, called the Wildlife Impact Mitigation and Inventory Plan, aims to catalog the different species that live in the park, particularly along a 2.5-mile waterway. 

That waterway will be drained ahead of the planned overhaul this summer of the Liberal Arts Bridge.

But before that happens, scientists with the park department, the Saint Louis Zoo, Fontbonne University and the Missouri Department of Conservation will develop the wildlife inventory — the most comprehensive one that’s been done at the park in about 15 years.

Forest Park Forever ecologist Amy Witt says there’s been little recorded information on wildlife in the waterway, which was built in the early 2000s.  

“The main ones we expect to find are the red eared slider and the common snapping turtle,” Forest Park ecologist Amy Witt. “We might get surprised and find a map turtle. Maybe somebody dumped something and we’ll find out a non-native [turtle]. That’s part of the process and the excitement of finding what you find.”

A common snapping turtle in Forest Park.
Credit Provided by Saint Louis Zoo
A common snapping turtle in Forest Park.

Witt began trapping turtles at the manmade waterway recently, and all of those involved are also working to identify frogs, fish and other wildlife in the waterway.

Some local researchers, including Jamie Palmer, a technician at the zoo's Institute for Conservation Medicine, are hoping the turtles will help them better understand diseases, such as a respiratory infection called mycoplasma.

“So if we can identify places where maybe [the disease is] more prevalent than others, we can go from there and identify what is causing it, like, are we getting a lot of pets dropped off that are sick?” Palmer said. 

Abandoned box turtles are a major problem at the park, Palmer said.

The reconstruction of the Liberal Arts Bridge, which is expected to be done by next spring, will improve habitat for turtles by allowing them more room to roam, Witt said.

Follow Eli on Twitter: @storiesbyeli

Eli is the science and environment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.

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