A state of emergency has been declared in Ontario by the Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre, a major turtle trauma centre based in Peterborough that has already treated 600 injured turtles this year.
Despite the influx, the centre will still dedicate their time and care to any injured turtle brought to their attention. “We are beyond maximum caring capacity… we’ve never seen it this busy,” says Executive Director of the centre Sue Carstairs, who spends most of her days operating on dozens of turtles that have been crushed by cars.
Their admissions have doubled and they’re not sure why, though they hypothesize that the recent rains have something to do with it, as the wet weather is ideal for the cold-blooded creatures.
Many turtles are out laying eggs, and highway shoulders “are one of the best place for turtles to lay their eggs, because they’re soft, gravelly, and very warm,” says Amy Henson, a biologist with Science North in Sudbury, Ont.
This news alarms people like Amy and Sue, as seven of Ontario’s eight turtle species are already on the Species at Risk list. It takes turtles up to 20 years to reach full maturity, which makes increasing their numbers a difficult and slow process.
The number one risk these beautiful creatures face is being hit by a car. I myself have come close to hitting one, not immediately recognizing what the big block in the road was. Carstairs explains that, because most turtles have been injured on the road, they suffer severe fractures on their shell. Head trauma is also common for snapping turtles, as they can’t hide in their shell.
Henson suggests that if you’re able to help a turtle cross the road, by all means, please do! She outlines a few steps for doing so:
- Make sure you’re pointing the turtle in the same direction they were going
- Take them off the road two metres
- Move the turtle quickly before deciding to pose for a photo to avoid confusing the turtle about the direction they were initially heading
Encouragingly, Amy suggests the centre’s increased admissions have less to do with more turtles being injured, and more to do with more people choosing to help them, which is a good thing. “The conservation centres are getting a lot of turtles because people care about them so much. And I think that’s a real win on conservation behalf,” she said.
There was also, thankfully, a recent permanent ban on hunting the snapping turtle in Ontario, to give the species a chance to recover.
“Having a legal hunt for a species at risk does add that extra threat. Turtles have a unique life experience . . . The population cannot handle the loss of one adult,” says Corsairs, “It’s not logical to have them legally hunted.”
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