Adventures in Turtle Rescue
Every now and again things happen unexpectedly that can provide surprise opportunities for environmentalism in daily life.
This lesson was quickly learned by Green Venture’s Garden Coordinator Julia Shulist when preparing to launch the Riverdale Community Garden Project. Peeking out of a large mound of soil were tiny turtle eggs! Being the environmentally conscious and animal loving type of person she is, all work was stopped until Julia could figure out what to do with these little guys. Through contacting the Ministry of Natural Resources we were pointed to a volunteer based, non-profit animal rescue in our area that focuses on native Ontario Wildlife that had recently added Snapping Turtles to their list of animals eligible to be assisted!
It should be noted that Snapping Turtles are a protected species, and in almost all cases (as with all protected species), should not be moved from their habitat, or where the eggs have been laid. However, in this situation; a very public, open garden still under construction where the eggs
were deemed to be at serious risk, a rare exception was made to move the turtles to a safer place. And to move them as quickly as possible so that the eggs would have the best possible chance to thrive.
Within an hour, trained volunteers were extracting eggs from our mountain of soil. No easy feat with the abundance of rain we’ve had, which caused the soil to start collapsing as eggs were removed. By the end of the retrieval, 32 eggs had been removed and placed into a secure container, later to be transferred to an incubator. We’ll keep our fingers crossed that they continue to develop and hatch in the fall!
Did You Know? – There are 8 species of turtle in Ontario and 7 of those are considered at risk, of special concern or are listed as endangered
Ontario Snapping Turtles 101
After our experience in turtle rescue we thought it might be a good idea to let people know what to do if they run into a similar situation. turtles primarily lay eggs from May-June so you never know what you might find! Here is a crash course in why Ontario snapping turtles are at risk and how you can help.
- Species at risk – Snapping turtles were added to the list in 2009 under Ontario’s Endangered Species Act classified as a ‘species of special concern’ meaning they are vulnerable to extinction
- Hunting – Despite their vulnerable status it is still legal to hunt snapping turtles in the province of Ontario. Hunters with a valid license can hunt 2 turtles a day with a maximum of 5 in your possession at a time. Hunters go for the largest turtles which unfortunately are also the most fertile. With breeding already an issue and a lack of monitoring done on turtle populations, hunting can potentially remove all the viable breeding turtles over time
- Illegal poaching – while it is legal to hunt snapping turtles in Ontario many people don’t want to abide by the hunting rules, seasons, and bag limits around hunting turtles, and resort to illegal poaching
- Road Crossing – most human related deaths to snapping turtles are caused by being hit by cars when crossing a road. With so much habitat loss and increased urbanization there are few safe passages for these slow moving creatures
- Breeding – snapping turtles don’t become viable breeders until 20 years of age. Late breeding ages and natural predators raiding nests leave very few birthing successes in the wild
- Habitat Loss – Wetlands are the snapping turtles main habitat; 70% of the wetlands in Southern Ontario are gone due to development
How to Help
- Report a Sighting to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry – include GPS coordinates and photos when possible
- Careful Driving – watch out for turtle crossings! They are very slow and cannot get out of the way of oncoming traffic. Pay extra attention from May – October when they are mating and nesting
- Report Illegal activity – If someone is poaching on your property or on public lands contact the Ministry of Natural Resoruces (MNR) 1-877-TIPS-MNR
- Call your MPP and ask them to support the ban on hunting snapping turtles
- If you come across a nesting area, don’t try to move the nest yourself; call the MNR to find a licensed animal rescuer, such as the Hobbitstee or The Kawartha Turtle Trauma Centre (KTTC), in your area. If you’re not sure where to start check out http://www.ontariowildliferescue.ca/
Whether it is turtle rescue or something entirely different each day can provide us with chances to make a difference; even when slightly inconvenient. Has anything happened to you that allowed you to let your environmentalism shine through? Leave us a comment!
Written by: Ashley Keenan