Meet Cheekwood’s Newest Residents

Meet Cheekwood’s Newest Residents

Cheekwood Bracken Foundation Children's Garden

Cheekwood’s newest residents have arrived! We are pleased to introduce our first permanent residents of the Bracken Foundation Children’s Garden. Recently, 5 turtles were released into the Barbara & Rick Turner Family Turtle Pond, which has been thoughtfully designed in partnership with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA). The Turtle Pond allows visitors to safely view these magnificent reptiles in their stunning new habitat. The Turtle Pond serves as a sanctuary for native turtles confiscated from the illegal pet trade.

Through an education and exhibit permit authorized by the TWRA, Cheekwood is allowed to operate as a rehabilitation center to these turtles, ensuring that the animals have every need met by a well-trained and knowledgeable staff with a background in zoological studies. Many of our turtles are still being quarantined and vetted for the safety of the animals and our staff, and we look forward to welcoming them to their new homes very soon.

As we welcome these newest residents to Team Cheekwood, we’re answering some of the most frequently asked questions about our turtles.

Turtle in the Bracken Foundation Children's Garden at Cheekwood

What’s the difference between turtles and tortoises? 

Turtles are semi aquatic, which means they spend most of their time in the water. Tortoises are terrestrial and spend most of their time on land. Both are reptiles, which means they are cold blooded and rely on their environment for warmth. This is why the turtles love sunbathing so much!

What kind of turtles are in the Turtle Pond?

We currently only have slider turtles, including red-eared slider and yellow-bellied slider subspecies. The slider turtle species will make up the core of the collection because they are the most plentiful semi-aquatic turtles in the wild and therefore the most frequently illegally rehomed species. As a result, the TWRA confiscates this species the most from illegal ownership. We hope to obtain a wider variety over time, including map, painted, and softshell turtles. Once fully complete, the turtle collection at Cheekwood will feature a diverse group of species that can vary significantly in size and appearance.

Where do they come from?

Our turtles come to us through the Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency. It is illegal to possess native Tennessee turtles due to the moderately high risk of contracting salmonella from semi-aquatic and terrestrial specimens, and the TWRA works to confiscate turtles from the illegal pet trade. Our education exhibit permit obtained through the TWRA allows us to serve as a rehabilitation center to these turtles that were confiscated from private individuals.

Tennessee waterways contain a great many types of turtles, with large populations in the remaining healthy streams and ponds. The species of turtles that we obtain at Cheekwood will reside in a mainly aquatic environment that will mirror the healthy pond and stream ecosystem in which they originated from.

Turtles in the Bracken Foundation Children's Garden at Cheekwood

What do they eat?

Turtles are omnivores who like leafy greens (the darker the better), veggies, small fish, worms, and bugs. Their diet can vary depending on the species and even the individual. A turtle’s dietary tastes can change throughout their lifespan and are largely environmental. Because of this, all of our newly arrived turtles go through a 60-day quarantine process to ensure optimal health, establish their ideal diet and create a template for individual identification. With the help of an experienced reptile veterinarian, we work to maintain a healthy collection of turtles and determine the best diet for each animal.

Our restaurant, Café 29, will be providing a variety of fresh vegetable diet that will serve as a supplement to a specific grain and pellet diet. Although turtles are not usually social towards humans and are rarely friendly, they do respond well to a routine and will gather for feedings as we work to provide a regular feeding schedule.

Can visitors pet or feed the turtles?

Our turtle habitat is designed to contain any risk of zoonotic salmonella contraction by preventing any and all patron contact with turtles and their water habitat. The water sources outside the turtle enclosure are not shared with the turtles and will therefore not contain any salmonella risk from our collection. In order to maintain a safe environment for both our visitors and our turtles, we ask that visitors observe the animals from the viewing bridge or from one of the many other vantage points overlooking the Turtle Pond. This will ensure the safest viewing experience for everyone. We also ask that guests refrain from tossing foreign objects, such as coins, food, or trash, into the turtle habitat.

Fun fact: Females turtles are typically larger, and turtles can live for 30 years in captivity!

Follow along on Cheekwood’s social media channels for more turtle content! For more information about the Bracken Foundation Children’s Garden, click here.


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