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HCC animal family welcomes rescued turtles, chinchillas

October 31, 2016

The alligator snapping turtle has a vast area in which to live. You can find them in southern states such as Texas and Florida, and further north into Iowa and Illinois. Though they can thrive in such diverse ecosystems, they are an endangered species.

Brian and Roger Settle Into Their Temporary Home

Operation Endangered Species is on a mission to save the alligator snapping turtle while engaging students. Heartland recently joined the initiative and is now raising two turtles.

snapping turtleSpearheaded by Pontiac Township High School teacher and College NOW instructor Paul Ritter, Operation Endangered Species works with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to reestablish the alligator snapping turtle to its historic Illinois home. Participating schools raise the turtles until they are ready (and big enough) to be released into the wild.

Heartland received the proper permits in summer 2016 and their turtles, Brian and Roger, arrived in June after being hatched at the St. Louis zoo.

HCC’s Associate Director of the Science Lab, Janet Beach-Davis, is thrilled to be part of the initiative. “These animals are predators and without predators, it’s hard to maintain an ecosystem,” she said. “We’re trying to restore the ecosystem and being part of something like that is fantastic.”

Beach-Davis adds the turtles grow slowly, so it’s likely Heartland will have them for a few years before they are released and given new ones.

The turtles have almost doubled in weight since arriving, and according to Beach-Davis, they eat a lot of fish.

Marco and Polo Join the Animal Family

Brian and Roger aren’t the only new animals to Heartland. The science department also rescued two chinchillas, Marco and Polo. They are now officially part of the HCC zoo family, which includes several other rescue animals: 

  • Mitch, a ball python
  • Chloe, a three-toed box turtle that was found wandering around Heartland’s campus
  • Tarantula Peter Parker
  • A hermit crab
  • Sammy the baby corn snake
  • Two parakeets named Sweetie and Melody

Marco  Polo

'Zoo' Outreach Teaches Students of All Ages

Marco and Polo, as well as the rest of the brood, serve an educational purpose to current HCC students and younger students within the community.

“They are truly classroom pets and not used for experiments,” explained Beach-Davis. In addition to serving as companions, the animals are used for observation. “Zoology and Biology students study the animals to observe their behavior.”

Since the College had the animals, Beach-Davis thought, “Why not do outreach?”

With that idea, Beach-Davis invites students (typically elementary/middle school students) to the lab. She’s also willing to travel to schools with some of the zoo. During the visit, kids learn about the animals, what to feed them and basic taxonomy. They also get to handle the creatures , which, according to Beach-Davis, helps kids become familiar with animals and makes them less afraid.

“It’s incredibly fun for me to get younger students excited about science,” said Beach-Davis. “Around the fourth or fifth grade is when kids decide science is hard or not cool. This program keeps kids interested and gives them a nudge that science is fun.”

Those interested in learning more about the HCC zoo or the Operation Endangered Species initiative can contact Beach-Davis at 309-268-8513 or email

Python  Birds  Turtle

Written by: Becky Gropp