WORCESTER, Mass. - The EcoTarium is doing its part to save an endangered species of turtle from extinction, taking in a handful of northern red-bellied cooter hatchlings.

Right now, the turtles are only a few weeks old. The EcoTarium plans to keep them for nine months to feed and raise them throughout the winter.

In the wild, these turtles would have to burrow into the mud and hibernate, which prevents them from growing. Under the EcoTarium’s watch, they’ll be released in May at the size of a 3-year-old turtle.

It’s all part of MassWildlife’s northern red-bellied cooter headstart program, which dates back to 1984, to bolster the population.

“It’s a really awesome opportunity for us,” said EcoTarium zoo manager Kelsey Castrogiovanni. “It's one of our first years getting to participate in this program, which has been well-established since the 1980s, but it's allowing us to really do hands-on conservation where we're making an actual difference that you can see.

“These turtles will actually be tracked once they are released into the wild and we'll be able to go back out, not us in particular, but the state, and they will continue to check to make sure these turtles are doing okay in the wild. So, it's really nice that we get to actually see that we're making a difference.”

The turtles are currently on display at the EcoTarium. MassWildlife has helped release more than 4,800 hatchlings in southern Massachusetts over the past 40 years.