The alligator snapping turtle (Macrochelys temminckii) is a freshwater apex predator that has experienced severe population declines throughout its range due to historical overharvesting and habitat degradation. Because of its long lifespan, high trophic level, and limited home range, it is a suitable sentinel species for monitoring environmental contaminants. In Louisiana, US a pilot program aims to augment free-ranging populations by releasing captive-reared individuals. Baseline values of potential environmental contaminants were determined as part of an overall health assessment to evaluate captive-reared alligator snapping turtles for release. Blood samples from 3-yr-old (n=23) and 4-yr-old (n=11) captive-reared alligator snapping turtles were tested for lead (Pb), mercury (Hg), and zinc (Zn) levels by atomic absorption spectrophotometry and cholinesterase (ChE) activity (as a biomarker for organophosphate and carbamate exposure) by the modified Ellman method. Reference intervals were determined for Zn (34 to 295 μg/dL), Hg (0 to 4.8 μg/dL), and ChE (0.17 to 1.65 μmole acetylthiocholine/mL per minute). Elevations of Pb, Zn, or Hg, or decreases in ChE activity levels of this cohort during recapture sampling may indicate point-source intoxications or bioaccumulation, both ultimately attributable to environmental contamination. The released animals may serve as sentinels for biomonitoring of their new habitat for the evaluated toxicants.
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Vol. 54 • No. 3