Written by Staff Writer by Phil Blancato, CNN
It was a particularly emotional moment for Deborah Morgan, a senior scientist with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.
For the past 12 years, Morgan has led an international team of conservation biologists working to rehabilitate and release thousands of small river turtles into the Amazon.
Once indigenous to the region, the freshwater turtles are now seen as a vulnerable species, as humans encroach on the trees that provide them a habitat.
Though the turtles aren’t considered endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature , the species is “in a critical phase,” says Morgan.
In the past five years, the team of veterinarians, biologists and wildlife agents have released about 33,000 small river turtles back into the forest to recover the population.
“This year we’re seeing our conservation efforts bearing fruit,” said Morgan in a press release from the agency. “We have a thriving population of turtle returning to their native habitat in the [Maida Negro] mountains, with many of the turtles returning after many years of imprisonment behind concrete and asphalt.”
Morgan said the release of these turtle reintroduction programs in several places in Peru and Brazil is a positive example of how a government team — along with local conservation groups and hunters — can act together to help animals thrive.
The scientists, however, warn that there’s still work to be done in the area and “environmental threats that threaten turtles include deforestation, illegal hunting, and pollution,” according to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.