World Turtle News, 03/13/2019
Turtle-sniffing dogs heading to Bur Oak Land Trust project
The concern is for the ornate box turtle, Iowa’s only native terrestrial turtle which lives on sandy prairies and open forest land. This is in sharp contrast to the river and wetland-loving snapping turtle and northern painted turtle — and its 10 other Iowa cousin-species.
These box turtles are listed as “threatened” in Iowa, and Bur Oak Land Trust is anxious to preserve a small population found on one of the 11 properties it manages within three area counties.
“It’s shocking to see the decline in their habitat in Eastern Iowa over the decades,” said Jason Taylor, property stewardship specialist for the trust’s total of nearly 500 acres. “One of the problems is that sandy prairie is also a good place to build a house.”
Due to their threatened status, removing the box turtles from the wild is illegal in Iowa, but poaching the turtles to sell as pets is another factor in the decline, he adds. A quick internet search shows ornate box turtles for sale legally from other states in which they are more plentiful.
Enter John Rucker, a Montana dog trainer and turtle expert who travels in a modified van with his Boykin spaniels, assisting with research projects in the warmer months and camping on site. Taylor thinks his unique service is the only one of its kind in the country.
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Photo from Ryan Wagner/ Special to the Press-Citizen.