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Kankakee Sands of Indiana

Efroymson Restoration

An unusual team of researchers visited the Conservancy's Kankakee Sands site to help protect the endangered Ornate box turtle.

The ornate box turtle is in trouble.

We have lost and continue to lose their preferred habitat—prairies and open savannas. More than most turtle species, ornate box turtles imprint on a home area early in their lives and typically are unwilling to move outside that range. When an area no longer can support the turtle, they stop reproducing and die.

At Kankakee Sands, we are actually creating large areas of ideal habitat for ornates. But just because we build it, does that mean they’ll come?

This summer, we were part of a week-long search for ornates in northwestern Indiana and just across the border in Illinois. Specially trained Boykin Spaniels were used to search for, find, and retrieve box turtles. Using the same instincts that make the breed good bird hunters, their owner has trained these dogs to search for the turtles. The dog’s ability to smell ornates greatly exceeds a person’s ability to see them in the prairie and gave us an exceptional opportunity to assess the status of the species.

The Spaniels hit the areas running with noses down, circling around and through prairie grasses and flowers. The great news is that there remain at least three separate populations
of the turtles on lands permanently conserved adjacent to Kankakee Sands. Amazingly, the highly susceptible animal has survived the dramatic landscape changes that have occurred since European settlement.

Given that previously only two ornates have been found in this area in the last five years, the dogs gave us decades worth of insight in that single week.

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