It’s summer and turtles are on the move.
Speeding traffic and slow-moving turtles are a dangerous combination and many of them are severely injured or killed on roads every year.
The Humane Society of Kitchener Waterloo & Stratford Perth would like to remind motorists to keep an eye out for the reptiles during egg-laying season.
“This is a busy time of year for turtles as they are on the move on land and travel quite a distance from water to lay their eggs,” says Vivian Laflamme, animal protection manager with the Kitchener Waterloo Humane Society.
“Slow down, especially along wetlands and back roads. We need to remember that a few months from now, the hatched turtles will be on the move and we will need to be careful and watch for them as they are moving about looking for waterways and wetlands.”
Turtles have been spotted in various areas of Waterloo Region and in the townships including New Hamburg and Elmira.
“Turtles live in wetland complexes and other aquatic habitats,” Laflamme said. “Both male and female turtles travel at this time of year looking for new territory or move between wetlands and other aquatic habitats. For female turtles, the busiest time of year is in May and June when they travel to lay their eggs.”
“We provide animal control services for Waterloo, Kitchener, Wilmot and Woolwich which includes assistance for sick and injured wildlife. If a member of the public has found a sick or injured turtle, we ask them to contact your local Humane Society or one of the Wildlife Rehabilitators licenced with the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR),” Laflamme said.
Even if their shells are crushed, turtles can remain alive for days or even weeks and in agonizing pain because they have such slow metabolisms.
According to the Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre (OTCC) in Selwyn Ontario, turtles may appear dead but unexpectedly they can still be alive. Turtles are ectothermic which means that the environment influences their body temperature. They can hold their breath and slow their heart rate, which in turn makes them look dead, when they’re not.
“Because of their hard shell, they have a good chance of healing, but if left, they will die,” says Dr. Sue Carstairs, executive medical director and head veterinarian at the centre.
“We receive lots of calls about turtle nests. The public is concerned and that’s so great.”
The OTCC is a registered charity whose goal is to protect and conserve Ontario’s native turtles and the habitat in which they live. It is run through donations which help to operate a turtle hospital, support research and aid in running a comprehensive education and outreach program.
“They move around a lot because their habitat may change, as well as water levels, so they will look for another place to nest,” Carstairs says.
Motorists who spot a turtle should contact the Kitchener Waterloo Humane Society.
The society provides the necessary care and treatment until the turtle is healed or is transported to the centre to receive additional medical treatment and any required rehabilitation.
“We do not have a formal affiliation with a turtle rescue, however, we do work closely with a few wildlife rescues. All sick and injured turtles we deal with are taken to Hobbitstee Wildlife Refuge,” Laflamme says. “We transport them there for treatment. If a female turtle perishes, we will try to obtain the eggs and transport them to Hobbitsee Wildlife Refuge, as snapping turtles are currently at risk and a species of concern.”
The refuge has a mission to assist sick, orphaned and injured wildlife, to return them back to their natural habitat, to identify problem areas and put measures in place to prevent wildlife from being in distress. It also educates the public on how to peacefully coexist with wildlife and to participate and initiate research to improve wildlife rehabilitation and wildlife well being.
Volunteers are predominantly young offenders, at risk youth and adult offenders. The refuge offers them an opportunity for meaningful activities which impact the environment in a positive way.
Turtles are cold-blooded so they prefer the climate in southern Ontario and snapping and painted turtles are more prevalent in Waterloo Region.
These two species are included in the eight native species of turtles in Ontario, which are determined to be at risk or endangered.
Road mortality is second to habitat loss, which is the number one contributing factor in declining populations.
The life cycle of a turtle makes them very vulnerable to the loss of even a small number of adults in a population, which is why helping to ensure safe passage of turtles crossing the road is so important.
“It’s especially important because if a turtle has died and found along the roadway, their eggs can still be collected, incubated and hatched,” says Carstairs.
“We saved over 1,000 injured turtles last year and over 4,000 eggs were incubated.”
Helping a turtle cross the road isn’t simply about being a good Samaritan as much as it is about preserving native turtle species.
“Turtles are important and vital to the health of our wetlands. They are the largest biomass in there. When you look at our world, Canada has the largest wetland areas and 75 per cent of those have been depleted. By protecting our turtles, we are also protecting our wetlands,” Carstairs says.
“If we can save a year, that impacts a whole population. We are buying time to save the bigger problem.”
In Waterloo Region, measures are being taken to help preserve turtles.
“The Region of Waterloo has been working on reducing the number of turtles and amphibians killed n the road by providing wildlife tunnels in North Dumfries,” Laflamme said.
And for all motorists who happen to see a turtle on the road, they are encouraged to stop and lend a hand, if safe to do so.
A turtle should be moved in the direction in which they are headed. For species other than snapping turtles, they can be picked up with two hands on either side of the shell and moved across the road.
If confronted with a snapping turtle, extra caution is needed. They should never be approached from the front or side of their shell. If approached from behind, they can slide right onto a car mat or shovel and then moved safely across the road.
In cases of injured or dead turtles, contact the Kitchener Waterloo Humane Society as soon as possible.
For more information, visit the Kitchener Waterloo Humane Society at kwhumane.com