Pontiac High School students are caring for an endangered species in hopes of bringing it back to Illinois. Science Teacher Paul Ritter says they are raising Alligator Snapping Turtles for the Department of Natural Resources and the National Geographic Society.
"Using a term that the kids came up with 'Thinking outside the shell' we found a way to have these organisms in the classrooms throughout the state and by allowing the students to be a part of it, bringing the species back from extinction."
Ritter says Alligator Snapping Turtles were a keystone species in some environmental food webs in Illinois.
"This species is one that was hunted and consumed from the 30s to the 60s very heavily."
Ritter says his students will reintroduce the young turtles at ages two four and six over the next eight years into watersheds in southern Illinois.
"We have not seen an example of a trapped specimen of Alligator Snapping Turtle since 1983 so either they're really really good at playing the game of hide and seek or they're just not there."
He says Illinois offers excellent habitat for the turtles. But, they are vulnerable to hunting because they don't start laying eggs till age 12 to 15.
"The fact that these guys reproduce at such an old age makes it very difficult because people were taking the older turtles out of circulation when they were consuming them and they don't reach the age of sexual maturity prior to them dying off.
Ritter says the effort to bring back the Alligator Snapping Turtle by crowd sourcing breeding operations in schools goes across classes because English students have written a curriculum and a care manual that can be used at other schools. He says with state budgets under stress, this may be the only way some species can return to the state.
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