Over 130 snapping turtle hatchlings were released on Sept 1st, 2016 at the Morrison Dam Conservation Area east of Exeter. The turtle release event was held to raise awareness about threats turtles face, as well as raise money for the Ontario Turtle Conservation Center (OTCC).
The public was invited to come and release a baby turtle in exchange for a donation to the OTCC. All the turtle hatchlings were from eggs that were either laid in unsuitable locations, or from female turtles hit and killed by cars.
The turtle eggs were incubated by the Huron Stewardship Council and hatched out in captivity under the watchful eye of trained staff. Over 250 people attended the event and more than 130 baby turtles were released back into the wild. Almost $1400.00 was raised in less than 4 hours. It was so successful, we ran out of turtles before the event was over! The community also had the opportunity to learn about native Ontario reptiles, purchase original works of art done by turtles and snakes, and buy ‘Brake for Snakes’ and ‘Brake for Turtles’ bumper magnets. All proceeds from the event went to the OTCC.
Why Turtles Need Our Help
Seven of Ontario’s 8 turtle species are currently listed as ‘Species at Risk’, including the snapping turtle. Turtles are in trouble. They can’t rebound fast enough from the pressures we’ve put on them, including roads, shoreline development, and poaching- to name a few.
Unlike most groups of animals, turtles take a long time to reach maturity. This means that they don’t start reproducing and contributing to the population until they are in their late teens or early twenties. In addition to their delayed sexual maturity, turtles have relatively few offspring and most (more than 99%) will die before they can have their own babies. One of the biggest threats to adult turtles is road mortality.
Each year thousands of turtles in Ontario are hit by cars. In the spring, most of those turtles are pregnant females looking for a place to lay their eggs. In the summer and fall, the majority are males looking for new ponds and new mates. Many drivers assume that the impact of their car on a small turtle would certainly have killed it. However, because turtles are ectotherms, or ‘cold blooded’, they have very slow metabolisms. Sadly, this means many of the turtles left hit by cars die a very slow death on the sides of roads each year.
Making a Difference
Fortunately for the turtles in Huron County, the ABCA and the HSC formed a partnership that has resulted in both organizations working together to help save our local turtles. The ABCA and their associates alert the HSC to any turtle nests laid in dangerous locations, such as the sides of roads and on driveways, and the HSC harvests those eggs and incubates them until they hatch. Both organizations also collect dead female turtles hit by cars and the HSC removes the eggs in an attempt to save the precious cargo inside them. We hold the appropriate permits to handle turtles and incubate eggs. In addition to rescuing and providing a safe haven for turtle eggs, both the HSC and ABCA work hard to rescue injured turtles hit by cars. Once in our care, we administer emergency first aid to the turtles and transfer them as quickly as possible to the OTCC. As it is a long journey to Peterborough from Huron County, volunteer drivers have helped with all or part of the trip to the center.
The Ontario Turtle Conservation Center, home of the Kawartha Turtle Trauma Center, is Ontario’s only turtle hospital. Located in Peterborough, this small facility is run under the direction Dr. Sue Carstairs- turtle doctor extraordinaire. Last year alone they admitted over 500 injured adult turtles and released over a thousand turtle hatchlings, most of whom has lost their moms to car strikes. The OTCC is a registered charity that operates entirely on donations.
How You Can Help
People can help turtles by creating suitable turtle habitat on their properties (sand for nesting, logs in ponds for basking), urging their municipalities to erect turtle crossing signs and build eco-passages, and stopping to help turtles cross the road. Always help them cross the road in the direction they were heading. People can also stop for injured turtles and help arrange their transport to the turtle hospital.
The money raised from the turtle release will go towards rehabilitating the many injured turtles currently at the center. Some of the injuries are so severe, most of these turtles will need to spend the winter at the hospital.
I’ve rarely come across staff and volunteers so dedicated to the conservation of species as they are at the OTCC. They work evenings, weekends and holidays to save Ontario’s turtles, and most are volunteering their time and resources. We need to show our support for this organization.
How to Help a Turtle on the Road
If you see a HEALTHY turtle on the road: please stop and safely help it across the road in the direction that it was heading.
If you see an INJURED turtle on the road: please stop and put it in a box or well ventilated container with a secure lid. Note the location (road and major intersections) where the turtle was found to ensure it can be released according to provincial regulations. Do not transport turtles in water. Do not offer the turtle anything to eat.
TAKE THEM TO:
• Kawartha Turtle Trauma Center- 1434 Chemong Rd #4, Peterborough, ON, K9J 6X2
• Salthaven Wildlife Rehabilitation Center – PO Box 601, Mt Brydges, ON, N0L 1W0
519-264-2440 (they only take small turtles)
• Toronto Wildlife Centre- 60 Carl Hall Rd, Toronto, ON, M3K 2C1 – 416-631-0662
-Jory Mullen, M.Sc.- Lead Species at Risk Technician with the Huron Stewardship Council