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Sea Turtle returns to wild thanks to Disney’s Animal Program

With the arrival of spring and rising temperatures, Disney’s Animal Programs returned an endangered green sea turtle to its natural habitat this morning near the Canaveral National Seashore after a successful two-month rehabilitation at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

The healthy, 10-pound patient is one of 14 critically injured sea turtles treated by Disney veterinarians and animal care experts since January as part of a massive effort by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to rescue more than 4,500 sea turtles impacted by record cold temperatures. As a licensed wildlife rehabilitation facility, Walt Disney World Resort is one of several animal rehabilitation centers working with state officials to provide urgent medical care for hundreds of sea turtles that remain in critical condition from this winter’s “cold-stun” event.

Reptiles such as sea turtles are vulnerable to frigid conditions which may slow their metabolism and lead to life-threatening comas, frostbite and other health concerns that interrupt internal organ function. Several sea turtles brought to Disney’s Animal Kingdom had suffered severe infections and damaged shells. So far, four of the 14 sea turtles have been successfully rehabilitated and released; today’s release brings the total to five. The rest remain under the care of veterinarians and animal care experts in heated, salt-water pools behind Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

“We’re encouraged by the progress that each animal is making, and are keeping a close watch on several turtles that will require months of intense medical treatment,” said Andy Daneault assistant curator of reptiles and amphibians with Disney’s Animal Programs.

Some of the released sea turtles have been fitted with transmitters which enable researchers to track their movements. Through satellite technology scientists may discover more about sea turtle habits at sea and identify migratory patterns that could hold the key to their survival. This knowledge helps researchers, conservationists and governing agencies make more informed decisions about sea turtle conservation methods and policies.

“Ultimately, our intent is to contribute to the world’s knowledge base of animals through research conducted in a broad spectrum of disciplines, all intended to improve care for animals in zoological habitats and conservation efforts in the wild,” according to Jackie Ogden, vice president of animal programs and environmental initiatives for Walt Disney Parks and Resorts.

As part of this coordinated, statewide rescue effort, Walt Disney World Cast Members logged more than 10,000 miles throughout the state, carrying more than 500 rescued turtles to warmer waters or rehabilitation facilities. They also delivered much-needed equipment and critical medical supplies including towels, bedspreads, syringes, ointments and pharmaceuticals to areas in need. In addition, a team of Disney veterinarians and hospital staff paid a proverbial “house call” to the Gumbo Limbo Nature Center in Boca Raton where they performed delicate surgeries in a makeshift, M*A*S*H-like field hospital along the beach.

Since 1986, Disney animal care teams have nursed more than 250 endangered sea turtles back to health. Many of the turtles have been rescued from cold northern waters, nursed back to health at Disney and released in Florida.