By Don Ford

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — Scientists are hoping that a new conservation program will help restore the dwindling Western Pond Turtle population in the Marin Headlands.

Jessie Bushell, the director of conservation at the San Francisco Zoo said, “They are very hard to see if you are not looking for them. They can be tough to see because they are brown, very shy.”

Another reason they are hard to see is because they are not in the Marin Headlands anymore. And the San Francisco Zoo, along with other partners, is carefully raising Western Pond Turtles to release back into the wild.

But a problem remains.

“The Bullfrog is a non-native frog that was introduced to the West Coast. They are a major predator of the Western Pond Turtle,” Bushell said.

Just hatched, the turtles are no bigger than a quarter.

Bushell said they have to get bigger before they’re released.

“Just big enough so that they won’t be eaten as soon as we release them. We want then to grow.”

She said the turtles need to be about two or three years old before they’re released.

A two or three-year-old turtle is around 6 to 8 inches in diameter.

The plight of the species was also impacted around the turn of the century, when it was a favorite item in San Francisco restaurants. Hundreds of thousands of them ended up in turtle soups.

Turtle soup is no longer in demand in San Francisco, but bullfrogs remain a predator.

The first area to receive these turtles may be Redwood Creek above Muir Beach.

Experts at the San Francisco Zoo say it could take a decade before they get a self-sustaining population re-established in Marin County.

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