GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — John Ball Zoo will put rare spotted turtles in the spotlight by conducting turtle surveys in West Michigan and hosting a World Turtle Day party Saturday.

John Ball Zoo will collaborate with Michigan Natural Features Inventory to survey spotted turtles across eight sites in the region. The information will help researchers figure out where the turtles live and learn what a healthy spotted turtle population should look like.

“The data we collect will equip us to create stronger strategies to protect our state’s native spotted turtles,” Bill Flanagan, conservation manager at John Ball Zoo, said.

Spotted turtles are native to Michigan, but they are at risk, threatened by raccoons and the pet trade alike. Because spotted turtles grow and reproduce slowly, it’s important to keep them in the wild. Zoo staff recommend against keeping them as pets.

“The spotted turtle, because it’s little and cute, is a subject to the pet trade. Which is very tempting but these guys, when you take them out of the wild, then they’re not reproducing in the wild and that can have a huge impact. So, ‘If you care, leave it there,’ we like to say,” Bill Flanagan, the zoo’s conservation manager, said.

He said if you see a spotted turtle crossing the road, you can help it make the journey.

“Turtles have to cross roads to find the different wetlands that they live in, and they’re not really suited for getting across the road quickly,” Flanagan said. “So if you see them, if you can do it safely, move them in the direction they’re heading and leave them pretty much as closest to where you found them as you can.”

Saturday’s celebration, at the zoo on Grand Rapids’ West Side, will include opportunities for the community to learn about and even meet turtles. There will also be native plant giveaways and several live shows: Pangea Steel Drum Band will play, the Circle Theatre will host a turtle-themed book reading and the Pacific Island Dancers will perform.

Access to the festivities is included in the price of general admission.

More information about the World Turtle Day party can be found at the zoo’s website.

— News 8’s Madalyn Buursma contributed to this report.