There is only one freshwater turtle native to California, the Western Pond Turtle. Once found from Western Canada down to Baja, Mexico, a taste for turtle soup back in Victorian days and, more recently, the introduction of the non-native Red Slider Turtle (the kind sold in pet stores) has lead to the Western Pond Turtle’s drastic decline. In May 2002, the Canadian Species at Risk Act listed the Western Pond Turtle as being extinct in Canada. There are only isolated pockets of them in Washington and they are almost gone from Oregon. They are headed that way in California, under pressure from aggressive introduced species like the Red Slider and Bullfrogs.
So we were thrilled, that through a naturalist connection of John the Baptist’s, we were allowed to host three rescued Western Pond Turtles in Lake Charles. As natives, they were immediately given native names: the two girls were named after local tribes, Miwok and Pomo. The naturalist warned John that the boy turtle was very stressed and underweight and may very well not make it. To fortify him, we named him after a fierce Northern California warrior, Captain Jack, a Modoc Indian who, with 60 braves, held off more than a thousand members the U.S. Cavalry for a year in what became the most expensive single Indian campaign in U.S. history.
Alas, a name was not destiny in his case. After two weeks, during which John the Baptist, lovingly hand fed him, and he seemed to be steadily gaining weight, I walked out to the pond to see Captain Jack floating lifeless. Nothing in particular seemed to have killed him. He was probably just stressed beyond recovery.
It’s tough out there for a Western Pond Turtle.
However, Miwok and Pomo are thriving. Apparently, our little man-made lake and waterfall are perfect turtle habitat. It’s clean, it’s filled with native plants and fish. And John’s steady decimation of the invasive Bullfrogs with his 22 rifle is keeping Lake Charles a clean, well-lighted place for native turtles. John says his naturalist friend is anxious to give us more rescue turtles, since this is such a perfect breeding spot for them.
So say a brief prayer for poor Captain Jack. He was buried with full native honors, presided over by one of the workers, Pat, who is a Pomo Indian from a local tribe.
Here’s how you can honor Captain Jack. Stop releasing those damned pet store turtles into our waterways! And shoot a bullfrog today!