By: Tina Novotny
Slow and steady wins the race but time might be running out for all eight species of Ontario turtles.
During the warm-weather months, turtles cross provincial roads and highways to forage or to seek breeding and nesting grounds.
With decreasing habitat due to development and increasing traffic, turtles are at risk more than ever, according to the Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre (OTCC) located in Selwyn, Ontario.
The Centre works with 30 Turtle First Response Centres across the province where you can bring sick or injured turtles after calling their emergency response line (705-741-5000)
Their network of private clinics or wildlife rehabilitators are all trained in emergency treatment for turtles who can provide triage care while transfer to the Kawartha Turtle Trauma Centre (the OTCC veterinary hospital) is being organized.
Shades of Hope Wildlife Rescue in Pefferlaw is part of the OTCC network and Manager of Operations Cathy Stockman says this has been a particularly bad year for injured turtles. “With all the heavy rains we’ve had, they’re coming to higher ground and getting into trouble. We’ve had 30 to 40 this year.”
Shades of Hope gives injured turtles pain medication, wound care and will stabilize broken shells while local drivers readily volunteer to bring the turtles to the trauma centre.
The wildlife “rehabbers” have a mutual appreciation for their rescue network roles, and they all want to raise awareness to stop violent road deaths.
“Snapping turtles don’t lay eggs until they’re 20 years old,” notes Stockman, and it sickens her that some people will run over turtles on purpose. “Some of the big ones we get in, there’s no way someone didn’t see them on the road.”
The OTCC provides expert turtle care and offers programs to inform the public about the importance of turtles to the environment. Many people are unaware that turtles are key to sustaining wetlands as one of the largest components of those ecosystems.
Wetlands provide filtration for the water table and provide flood control by storing excess water – critical with increasingly severe storm systems.
So how can you help Ontario turtles? Follow the OTCC’s instructions if you find an injured turtle, and if you encounter a turtle on a roadway, make note of the direction they’re headed and move them to that side of the road.
If it’s a snapping turtle, try “wheelbarrowing” the turtle by holding the back of its shell.