Though once abundant, the western pond turtle is now a species vulnerable to extinction. The cause is, unfortunately, something completely predictable: habitat loss as wetlands are converted to farmlands, and the species population becomes fragmented.

That's a primary reason why the San Francisco Zoo and other locations lovingly tend to hatchling turtles until they are large enough to evade predation by frogs, birds or other animals that might view them as a meal. However, when it comes time to be released, finding suitable habitat is a challenge. No wonder, since the loss of suitable habitat is a primary reason why the species is at risk of extinction in the first place. Now that they're old enough to be released, where are they to go?

KQED reports, "More than 50 young western pond turtles that were raised in captivity and released into Mountain Lake last summer are growing at a steady, rapid pace, said Jonathan Young, wildlife ecologist with the Presidio Trust, which is overseeing Mountain Lake’s restoration. The turtle release was part of the restoration of Mountain Lake, one of only three remaining natural lakes in San Francisco. Restoration began in 2000 and has so far cost $2.5 million, said Dana Polk, a spokeswoman for the Presidio Trust."

To make sure all the hard work wasn't done in vain, the turtles are closely monitored using radio transmitters, which let scientists watch the turtles' location. This can help researchers ensure the turtles are staying safe and healthy and keep an eye out for any potential problems. The beauty of this project is that the turtles are helping the lake return to its once native and natural state, and the lake provides a place for western pond turtles to live even in the middle of a city.

This short video by KQED features lots of baby turtle cuteness and great information about what the "head start" rearing of turtles and their release into the wild means for the future of the species:

Jaymi Heimbuch ( @jaymiheimbuch ) focuses on wildlife conservation and animal news from her home base in San Francisco.