West Orange zoo opens turtle rescue center

The Turtle Back Zoo in West Orange has a special new rehabilitation for injured sea turtles that wash up along the Jersey Shore.

The Turtle Back Zoo in West Orange has a special new rehabilitation for injured sea turtles that wash up along the Jersey Shore. (2/10/17)

WEST ORANGE - The Turtle Back Zoo in West Orange has a special new rehabilitation for injured sea turtles that wash up along the Jersey Shore.

The Sea Turtle Recovery Center currently has 11 patients -- all Kemp's Ridley sea turtles -- recuperating in five tanks.

It's the first such long-term care facility in New Jersey, according to officials.

Previously, animal rescuers had to transport injured or sick turtles to North Carolina.

"So even just one endangered species, with a traumatic injury, sometimes in critical condition -- having to drive that distance just broke our hearts," says Brandi Biehl, of the Sea Turtle Recovery group. "We couldn't do it anymore."

The zoo had empty space, and STR moved in.

Sometimes rescue is as easy as warming the turtles up. When temperatures fall below 55 degrees, the cold-blooded animals start to shut down. The zoo plans to warm up several of its current patients and release them in the waters off of Florida.

"It gives the zoo a new exhibit, and the sea turtles are about as cute a reptile as they get," says Brint Spencer, the zoo's director. "So it will have a lot of public appeal."

Zoo visitors will be able to watch the turtles rehab in a viewing room, which also serves as an educational center. 

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