Founder, Dr. Bill Belzer
Eastern Box Turtle
Clarion Researcher Takes to the Woods to Save the Box Turtle
Excerpt taken from "Clarion!" magazine - Spring 1999 - Volume 4, Number 2.
Remember when you were a kid and used to see box turtles crossing the road at summer camp or even in your own backyard? Such memories led Dr. Bill Belzer at Venango Campus (Clarion University) to initiate a research program and conservation effort to return vanishing box turtle populations to a habitat from which they have disappeared.
"Over the years, people have routinely plucked Eastern Box Turtles from their homes and kept them as pets," Belzer says. "The pet trade further exploited them by scouring the woodlands for them, then shipping them overseas or to pet stores in this country, Many turtles lost their habitats due to development. Even well-intentioned individuals have moved them from their natural habitats to other areas, not knowing that the turtles will instinctually try to get back to their natal birth place - and in the process be run over crossing highways, be killed and maimed by predators, or die from exhaustion.
"So many box turtle populations have disappeared across North America that in 1995, 124 nations agreed to extend treaty protection to box turtles."
"My work is aimed at rebuilding the box turtle population in one of their former habitats, the McKeever Environmental Learning Center. I'm working with turtles donated by veterinarians, animal rehabilitation centers, or school classrooms. These turtles have lost their homes due to injury, habitat destruction, or captivity. Since no turtles remain in McKeever's woods, the project poses no risk of bringing unwanted genes or disease into a resident population."
One of the problems Belzer has encountered is that none of the eggs left in the ground by the turtles lay hatched thus far. Even in the wild, box turtles lay only two to five eggs a year. Almost none of them hatch; those that do rarely survive the ravages of climate and predators. Turtles in the wild don't reach adulthood, when they acquire their hard, protective shell, until about 10 years old. This diminishes their chances for survival.
"I'm trying to develop more natural means for encouraging hatching in nature. In the meantime, I'm gathering eggs in the summer, incubating them until they hatch in the fall, then feeding the babies for about a month so they get a chance to grow. They then go into hibernation for a few months in my basement. I feed them again when they awaken in the spring before releasing them into an enclosure in the woods. Once they have grown enough to stand a better chance of surviving - approximately four to five years - I'll release them into the woods or provide them with a bigger enclosure."
"Ideally, I'd like to see more local people and even students get involved in this work. Because of the complexity of how box turtles live and function, it may take generations of intensive work and hundreds of thousands of dollars to reestablish a stable box turtle population tin even a tiny parcel of their former home range. I think it's worth it."
Post Script Dr. Belzer passed away in the spring of 2016. His work lives on at the "Eastern Box Turtle Conservation Trust." Find our more at ebtct.org or contact Sue Seibert at email@example.com.
Published in the McKeever Environmental Learning Center
"Hemlock Pathways" - Spring 2016 Newsletter
The Eastern Box Turtle Conservation Trust sadly announced the passing of its founder Bill Belzer on
March 24, 2016. Bill, a professor at Clarion University of PA, was interested in box turtle conservation
issues, and had begun the study on Box Turtles at the McKeever Environmental Learning Center in 1993.
By the year 2000 it was found that McKeever’s acreage was a bit on the small side for box turtles, and the
study continued on to a second location at a 500-acre sanctuary in Franklin, PA.
Bill’s vision of a long term study on population recruitment and the repatriation of displaced eastern box turtles continues on to the present.
The Eastern Box Turtle Conservation Trust (EBTCT) website includes research papers that Bill has written on the findings over these years including long term movement histories for the translocated adult box turtles and the juveniles from these adults.
Bill believed that a century of field study may be needed to develop effective knowledge on box
turtle conservation strategies. However, Bill funded the study himself and with his passing, the EBTCT is now in need of a few volunteers in order for this important research to continue.
If you are interested in turtle conservation there are several areas in which you can volunteer. Experience
with radio telemetry and GPS is needed for field work. Volunteers will work under supervision until
comfortable performing the task with the idea that they will work on their own eventually.
Experience with excel is needed for organizing data on the turtles and can be done from your own home.
In home temporary turtle care is also needed from time to time.
The Chelonian Research Foundation, manages a fund to ensure the indePinite continuation of the EBTCT work.
Details on how to contribute can be found on the website under the tab “Donations”. For more information please contact Sue Seibert, firstname.lastname@example.org or