BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - There was a truly "rare" find in a Berkeley Heights backyard. An endangered adult wood turtle was found uninjured in the back yard of a Park Avenue home. They are unmistakeably recognizable by their distinctive bright orange underside coloration. Conservationists consider the wood turtle one of the most endangered freshwater turtles in North America. The loss of streamside forests to development threatens local populations, and many adults die when crossing roads between fragmented patches of suitable habitat. The wood turtle has been listed in New Jersey as a highly threatened and endangered species since 1979. 

Natalia Hazlitt, age 8, describes herself as a true animal lover at heart and was excited to care for the endangered wood turtle during his short stay. Natalia explained with a big smile, "my Dad saw a rock moving when he looked out the window. It was a turtle! I was speechless and never thought I would find a turtle that would cause all this excitement." 

After an onsite assessment by NJ DEP Conservation Officer Jordan Holmes, he determined that the immediate surrounding area was not a suitable and safe habitat for release of this rare turtle so it was removed for relocation by the NJ DEP Division of Fish and Game. Officer Holmes said, "You just don't ever see these anymore. It is a genuine treat to see and assist such a beautiful rare animal." 

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This is an active time of year for mating turtles and the laying of eggs. If you find a turtle crossing a road and can safely assist, simply remove him from the roadway in the direction they are heading. If you move and release then back in the opposite direction they were heading they will turn back and reenter the roadway and risk serious injury or death.

If you find a turtle or other wild animal in distress seek advice from the State of NJ DEP Division of Fish & Wildlife or a licensed Animal Rehabilitation organization.

Department of Environmental Protection, Division of Fish and Wildlife Northern Region Office: 908-735-8240; 24-Hour Hotline: 1-877-927-6337. The Woodland Wildlife Refuge in Pittstown, NJ call  908-730-8300. More NJ Wildlife Rehabilitators: https://www.state.nj.us/dep/fgw/pdf/rehab_list.pdf.