By: Michelle Poirier
It’s turtle nesting season, and female turtles are looking for places to lay their eggs, so keep your eyes on the road to avoid hitting one.
Gail Lenters, the founder of Shades of Hope Wildlife Refuge in Pefferlaw, said they have been getting calls about injured turtles on roads since the beginning of June.
“We see a lot of turtles hit by cars, sadly,” she said.
“If people see a turtle that’s been hit by a car, they should call us. Whether they think it’s dead or just hurt, call us because the turtles could be females and could have eggs. So even if a turtle is dead, there is an opportunity to save all her babies.”
Shades of Hope is one of 40 first response locations around the province that can provide emergency care if an injured turtle is located too far away from the Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre in Peterborough.
“We take them in here, stabilize them, give them medication, and then send them to the professionals in Peterborough,” Ms. Lenters said.
Dr. Sue Carstairs, Executive and Medical Director of the Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre, said they have approximately 700 turtle taxi volunteers who can help to get the turtle to them after the first responders have treated it
If you come across a turtle trying to cross a road, you can help it before it gets hit.
“If it’s a very busy road, it would be too dangerous to stop. But, if it’s a quieter road and no traffic is coming, you can pull over carefully, with all flashers on, and help the turtle across,” Dr. Carstairs said.
“Always point the turtle in the direction they were heading, even if it doesn’t make sense to you.”
According to Ms. Lenters, snapping turtles necks can reach right around and bite you, so you’ve got to be very careful with them. You can use a box or anything you have in your car to slide under their behind and gently push them in the direction they are heading.
“If you’re confident enough to pick up the back of a turtle, the back of its shell, and push them, you can do that,” she said.
Dr. Carstairs also suggests using a car mat, shuffling the turtle onto it and then dragging the carpet across the road. She also said to wash your hands thoroughly after you help a turtle.
Haig Ampagoumian, a resident of Pefferlaw, found a large snapping turtle on his street.
“It was a big one, from its head to the end of its tail was two feet,” he said.
He needed the help of his wife and father-in-law to direct the turtle into a blue bin; then, he was able to carry the turtle to the river.
While it did not bite him, Mr. Ampagoumian said it hissed at him. “It’s a bit scary because you don’t know what to expect,” he said.
Mike Anderson, publisher of The Post, had a similar experience on Metro Rd. in Willow Beach.
“I couldn’t believe how big the snapping turtle was. And it kept trying to bite me,” he said.
“So, I called my daughter Natalia for help. She grabbed a shovel from the cottage, and we were able to push it into a neighbour’s blue bin and move it to a marshy area off the road, where it swam away.”
“It was a bit stressful, but it felt great to save it from being run over,” he said.
According to Ms. Carstairs, seven of the eight species of turtles in Ontario are currently listed as at-risk, and federally that number jumps to eight out of eight. She’d like to see us all work together to protect turtles.
“They are a large part of the necessary biodiversity in our wetland habitats. Wetlands are the source of much of our drinking water, and the wetlands act as a filter for this water. Turtles have been around for over 200 million years, far longer than dinosaurs. Humans have been the cause of the declines, and so it makes sense we should also try and save them,” she said.
If you come across an injured turtle, you can call Shades of Hope at (705) 437-4654 or the Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre at (705) 741-5000.
The Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre has resources for ways you can help turtles on their website, www.ontarioturtle.ca