Hatching a Turtle Recovery Plan

Turtles are in serious trouble.

All eight species of freshwater turtles in Canada are listed as Species At-Risk. This makes turtles one of the most endangered groups of wildlife in Canada. Turtles face many threats, including:

  • Habitat loss
  • Being hit by cars and trucks on roads
  • High rates of nest predation

In 2018, the Canadian Wildlife Federation began collecting and incubating Snapping Turtle and Blanding’s Turtle eggs in eastern Ontario to help turtle populations. The eggs are carefully collected from wild nests and incubated at CWF headquarters. The hatchlings of each nest are then released at the wetland closest to the nest site.

Last year we collected over 400 eggs. More than 95 per cent of the fertilized eggs hatched out, allowing us to release almost 400 hatchlings. This year, the CWF Turtle Team acquired a second incubator that allowed us to collect and incubate more eggs. After many late nights of hard work, the Turtle Team collected over 500 Snapping Turtle and Blanding’s Turtle eggs.

Why is incubating eggs so beneficial to turtle populations?

CWF Freshwater Turtle Specialist Dave Seburn shows us the turtle eggs in the incubator.
CWF Freshwater Turtle Specialist Dave Seburn shows us the turtle eggs in the incubator
  • In many areas, nest predators such as raccoons are very abundant. Raccoons have adapted to human ways and increased their populations. It is common for raccoons to destroy more than half of turtle nests – in some areas, they may take 80 per cent or more of nests. That is a lot of lost reproduction.
  • If it is a cool and wet summer, there may not be enough time for the eggs to hatch before fall arrives. In central and eastern Ontario, turtle eggs may only hatch in years when temperatures are average or above average.
  • Some nests along roadsides will be missed by predators, but these nests still face other risks. Regular maintenance along roadsides can include grading the road shoulder, which can accidentally dig up nests. And in some areas, roadsides are sprayed with herbicides to control unwanted plants, which can also affect nests.
  • The eggs that do hatch are still not necessarily safe. Hatchlings often emerge from the nest in late summer or early fall. If the nest is on the roadside, hatchlings may disperse onto the road, only to be run over during their first day out of the nest.
  • Hatchlings that avoid being run over must still find their way to water. Some roadside nests are only a few metres from water, making the trek fairly easy for the hatchlings. Other roadside nests we’ve found have been more than 100 metres from water. This is a huge distance for toonie-sized hatchlings to travel – assuming they go in the right direction!

Collecting and incubating the eggs avoids these and other threats. The eggs are protected from nest predators such as raccoons. The temperature and humidity are controlled so the eggs hatch out on time. The hatchlings can avoid being run over by cars and making the lengthy trek to water.

snapping baby turtle

The vast majority of turtle eggs never result in hatchlings entering the wetland. By incubating the eggs and releasing the hatchlings at the nearest wetland to the nest, we are giving turtle reproduction a huge boost. The hatchlings still face many threats after being released, but they will have overcome some of the biggest hurdles in a turtle’s life.

Learn more about how you can HelpTheTurtles.ca

Hooked a Turtle? Here’s How to Help…

Many people enjoy spending a day fishing on the lake.

It’s a great way to get outside and possibly bring home a fish for supper. Unfortunately, unwanted animals, such as turtles, sometimes take an interest in the hook at the end of the fishing line.

Many freshwater turtles are scavengers, but they also take live prey, which means they can get caught on baited fishing hooks or lures. Faced with a large and unhappy Snapping Turtle hooked on the line, many anglers simply cut the fishing line so the hook remains in the turtle. Some hooks get caught in the turtle’s mouth, which can make feeding difficult. Other hooks are swallowed and get lodged in the turtle’s throat or even its stomach, which can be fatal.

How many turtles get caught on fishing hooks?

We don’t really know, but a few studies suggest the issue is widespread and relatively common. A study from Tennessee found that at one site more than 30 per cent of the adult female Snapping Turtles had swallowed fishing hooks. Of course, the percentage of turtles that get hooked will vary from lake to lake, depending on the number of people fishing.

Which turtles are most likely to get caught on fishing hooks?

Spiny Softshell caught on a fishing hook © Scott Gillingwater
Spiny Softshell caught on a fishing hook © Scott Gillingwater

Any turtle that occurs in commonly fished waters could potentially get hooked, but Snapping Turtles are typically hooked most often, likely because of their size, widespread nature and feeding behaviour. Other Canadian species known to get caught on fishing hooks include the Northern Map Turtle, Painted Turtle, Spiny Softshell and Wood Turtle.

Why is a turtle getting hooked an issue?

Getting caught on fishing hooks is dangerous for turtles for three reasons.

  1. It causes needless suffering, which we should try to reduce or prevent.
  2. All eight species of freshwater turtles in Canada are now listed as Species At-Risk. Turtles need all the help they can get!
  3. Even a small increase in turtle mortalities each year can cause population decline. Research suggests that deaths from fishing hooks alone can cause turtle populations to decline in some areas.

What do I do if I hook a turtle?!

A number of steps can be taken to help reduce the impact of fishing hooks on turtles.

  • Consider using barbless hooks when fishing in areas with large turtle populations. Barbless hooks are easier to remove if a turtle is caught.
  • Try to remove a fishing hook that gets snagged on vegetation, rather than just cutting the line and abandoning the hook.
  • Distribute our guide to helping hooked turtles to popular fishing areas.
X-ray of Spiny Softshell showing a swallowed fishing hook w arrow © Scott Gillingwater
X-ray of Spiny Softshell showing a swallowed fishing hook with arrow © Scott Gillingwater

If you do hook a turtle while fishing, here are some ways to help.

  • Reel the turtle in slowly and gently to prevent the hook from digging in deeper.
  • Never cut your line and release the hooked turtle. Leaving a hook embedded in a turtle can lead to its death.
  • Use a net or grab the back end of the turtle’s shell to lift it out of the water. To prevent further injury, don’t lift the turtle by the fishing line or tail.
  • Be cautious. Turtles may bite or scratch to protect themselves. Be extra careful with Snapping and Spiny Softshell Turtles as they have long, flexible necks and a powerful bite.
  • If the hook is difficult to remove, caught in the mouth or has been swallowed, medical care is required.

If you are in Ontario, call the Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre at 705.741.5000. They will provide medical care at no charge and have volunteers to assist with transportation from anywhere in Ontario.

Download this easy-to-follow guide on what to do when you hook a turtle. Learn more about how you can help Canada’s freshwater turtles

 

Why Did the Turtle Cross the Road?

To get to the wetland on the other side.

It is spring and turtles are active, often moving from one wetland to another. Or females are looking for a place to lay their eggs. These movements often mean turtles must cross roads to get where they want to go.

Over the past two years, the Canadian Wildlife Federation turtle team has found over 1,000 dead turtles on roads in eastern Ontario. That is a staggering amount of mortality. We know that road mortality is a serious threat to turtles and we are working on getting wildlife fencing installed at some of the worst spots to keep turtles off the road.

What Can I Do?

In the mean time, we can all do our part by watching for turtles on roads, particularly when we are driving in rural areas close to lakes and wetlands. The CWF turtle team has rescued over 100 turtles from roads over the past two years. You can help too.

First of all, if you see a turtle trying to cross the road, make sure it is safe to help. If the traffic isn’t too heavy and it is safe to do so, pull off onto the road shoulder and turn on the car’s four-way flashers. Look both ways before heading onto the road to save the turtle. If there are cars coming, don’t risk your life.

With the exception of Snapping Turtles it is fairly easy to pick up most turtles. Use both hands and grab the turtle on either side of the shell. The turtle may not appreciate or understand that it is being rescued from the road and may scratch or pee on you, so be prepared for this. If you have a firm grip on the turtle with both hands you are less likely to drop it if it does scratch you. It’s a good idea to keep a pair of work gloves in the car to protect your hands when moving turtles, and for other roadside adventures.

Always move the turtle in the direction that it is heading. Turtles know where they want to go. Release the turtle on the shoulder of the road and it will likely quickly shuffle away from you and the road. Take a bow, as you just saved a turtle.

Moving Snapping Turtles, especially large ones, is more challenging. Snapping Turtles can be fast and they can bite. They can also spin around quickly or even lunge. Do not grab the sides of the shell of a Snapping Turtle as the head may whip around and bite you.

One option to move a Snapping Turtle is the car mat drag. Place a car mat behind the turtle, grab the back of the shell near the back legs and drag the turtle onto the mat. Do not drag the turtle by its tail as this can injure the turtle. Once the turtle is on the mat, drag the mat off the road, keeping one hand on the back of the turtle.

Another technique for moving a Snapping Turtle is the shovel lift. If you have a shovel in the car, approach the turtle from behind and slide the shovel under it. Then lift and move the Snapping Turtle off the road. Don’t lift the shovel too far above the road as the turtle may try to move and fall off the shovel.

To see how to safely pick up a Snapping Turtle by hand, check out our video on how to move a turtle off the road.

To learn more how you can help turtles, visit HelpTheTurtles.ca

Nature’s Clean Up Crew

No need to wait once a week for these scavengers to make their round.

Some species don’t get enough credit for the work they do to help keep the environment neat and tidy. Species that feast on dead and decaying plant and animal matter are called scavengers, a.k.a. nature’s clean up crew.

Scavengers play a crucial role in the environment; they help break down organic matter and recycle it back into the ecosystem as nutrients. They also keep potentially dangerous diseases and bacteria at bay by consuming the animal carcasses along the roadside, your favourite outdoor trail, and many other locations we might not even be aware of.

Take a look below at some of Canada’s most popular scavengers and some that just may surprise you.

Turkey Vultures

turkey vulture

Turkey Vultures are scavengers in the truest form and feed almost exclusively on carrion (dead animals). Their keen sense of smell helps them detect gases from carrion along the roadside and beneath closed tree canopies. Their stomachs have strong acids that help kill off dangerous toxins and microorganisms, which helps minimize the spread of diseases and bacteria associated with carrion.

Butterflies

butterly

Butterflies are scavengers too! Several species of butterflies have been found huddled on mud, urine and dung, and on the corpses of dead animals and fish as they lick for vital salt and minerals.

Red Fox

red fox

Red Foxes have a stomach of steel and can eat almost anything from voles, mice, squirrels and rabbits to reptiles, wild fruits and garbage. But they will also readily eat carrion any chance they get.

Pine Martens

pine marten

Pine Martens have a cute appearance with a little round face and pointy nose. They are also very effective predators with sharp, curved and semi-retractable claws that help them climb trees. Just like many species, Pine Martens are also opportunistic predators that won’t pass up on free leftovers.

Coyotes

coyote

You can count on Coyotes for scavenging on the leftovers from wolf kills. Coyotes are opportunists and will eat just about anything from small prey animals, deer, wild fruit to dead animals.

Common Raven

raven

This bird has adapted to living in many different habitats across the country and with that comes being able to adapt on what food is available. Ravens are mostly opportunistic omnivores and are known to prey on sick and dying animals and scavenge their carcasses.

Wolverine

wolverine

Wolverines are more of a scavenger than a hunter and usually depends on other animals, like wolves, to make the kill for them. But when push comes to shove, Wolverines will hunt their own prey.

North American Lobster

lobster

North American Lobsters do their part to keep the sea floor clean. These bottom-dwellers feed on crabs, shellfish, starfish, marine worms, sea urchins, slugs and snails – either alive or dead! They certainly do their part to help recycle the nutrients within their habitat.

 Black Bear

black bear

Black Bears take advantage of whatever grub is available. They need to forage up to 20 hours a day to increase their body weight for winter and will eat both plants and animals, including carrion.

Snapping Turtles

snapping turtle

Snapping Turtles play an important role in the ecosystems as scavengers. These turtles helps keep our lakes and rivers clean by eating a heavy diet of carrion and recycling the nutrients back into the bodies of water.

Helping At-Risk Freshwater Turtles: From Start to Finish

In June of this year, CWF’s turtle team spent many long evenings searching for turtles laying eggs.

In particular we were looking for Snapping Turtles and Blanding’s Turtles in the process of laying their eggs. Our goal was to let the females lay their eggs and afterwards we would dig up and collect the eggs to incubate them back at CWF headquarters.

Why?

Hannah moving a Blanding's Turtle @ Mackenzie Barns
Hannah moving a Blanding’s Turtle @ Mackenzie Barns

All eight of Canada’s freshwater turtles are now considered to be species at risk. Turtles face a lot of threats such as loss of wetland habitat, and traffic mortality. In many areas 50 per cent or more of turtle nests will be destroyed and eaten by predators such as raccoons. Nest predation is a natural process, but giving turtles a helping hand by protecting their nests can benefit their populations.

From Start to Finish

1. Collecting Eggs

Excavated Snapping Turtle eggs in the field
Excavated Snapping Turtle eggs in the field | Marquage des œufs de tortues hargneuses.

Collecting turtle eggs is not as easy as it may sound. After a female turtle has laid her eggs, she packs the soil back into the hole and there is often no sign of the nest. The surest way to find a turtle nest is to find the female during the few hours she is in the process of laying her eggs. This can involve a lot of searching in the evening, when turtles are most apt to lay their eggs.

Great care has to be taken not to startle the turtle, or she may abandon her search for a nesting site until another evening. Once the female has finished nesting, we carefully dig up the nest and collect the eggs. After many long and late nights, the Turtle Team gathered more than 400 eggs from roadside nests!

2. Egg Incubation

CWF Freshwater Turtle Specialist Dave Seburn shows us the turtle eggs in the incubator.
CWF Freshwater Turtle Specialist Dave Seburn shows us the turtle eggs in the incubator | Œufs dans un incubateur

The eggs were kept in a special reptile egg incubator that maintains a constant temperature. Eggs from two species at risk turtles were collected: the Blanding’s Turtle and Snapping Turtle. Blanding’s Turtle eggs are oval, whereas Snapping Turtle eggs are round, like tiny ping-pong balls. Blanding’s Turtles lay about a dozen eggs, whereas Snapping Turtles lay 30 to 40 eggs.

The eggs from each nest were placed in a separate container filled with damp vermiculite, an artificial potting soil mixture. Our first eggs began to hatch in early August, but the eggs continued to hatch over the next few weeks. Excluding the eggs which weren’t fertilized, we had about 97 per cent of the eggs hatch successfully.

3. Hatched Eggs

Blanding’s Turtles at different stages of hatching
Blanding’s Turtles at different stages of hatching | Tortues mouchetées à différentes phases d’éclosion | Tortues mouchetées à différentes étapes de l’éclosion.

When the hatchlings first emerge, they have a yolk sac attached to their bottom shell. This contains nutrients and feeds the hatchlings for the first few days of life. We kept the hatchlings until the yolk sac was absorbed and then released each clutch of hatchlings back near where the eggs were found, at the closest wetland to each nest. By the end of August we had released almost 400 hatchlings back into the wild.

4. Releasing the Hatchlings

These hatchlings still have a hard life in front of them.

The parents do not provide any care for the hatchlings, so they are on their own to find food, avoid predators and find a safe place to hibernate for the winter. Without our help though, at least half of these eggs would have simply become food for raccoons. And possibly many of the hatchlings would not have successfully made the trek to water as the eggs are often laid 100 metres or more from a wetland.

Adding more turtles to wild populations is a good start, but there are many other threats that need to be addressed to help the turtles.

Learn other ways how you can HelpTheTurtles.ca.

We’ve Got Turtle Eggs!

Turtles face many threats, including habitat loss, traffic mortality, and nest predation.

snapping turtle nesting on shoulder

Many predators, such as raccoons and skunks like nothing more than to feed on some freshly laid turtle eggs. While nest predation is a natural threat, in many areas nest predators occur at higher than normal levels and they can eat most of the turtle eggs laid every year. Protecting the eggs helps give turtles a fighting chance and offsets some of the road kill that occurs every year.

One way to protect a turtle nest is through a nest cage. While nest cages can be used to protect some nests in natural areas, those on roadsides cannot be caged, since cages may interfere with traffic and the work of road maintenance crews.

 

Download Nest Protector How-To

Unfortunately, gravel road shoulders make for attractive nesting locations for turtles. The loose gravel and sand make it easy for turtles to dig their nests, and sunny roadsides provide the necessary warmth the eggs need to hatch. Roadsides can be dangerous though, to both the nesting female, and the hatchlings that may end up on the road.

Excavating a nest
Excavating a nest

Another option is to collect the eggs once they have been laid and hatch them in captivity. That is what CWF is doing this year in the Ottawa area. Egg collection does require permits from the provincial government as incorrect incubation can cause the eggs to not develop or hatch.

Collecting turtle eggs is not as easy as it may sound. After a female turtle has laid her eggs, she packs the soil back into the hole and there is often no sign of the nest. The surest way to find a turtle nest is to find the female in the process of laying her eggs. This can involve a lot of searching in the evening, when most turtles are most apt to lay their eggs.

Great care has to be taken not to startle the turtle, or she may abandon her search for a nesting site until another evening. Once the female has finished nesting, we carefully dig up the nest and collect the eggs. After many long nights, the Turtle Team gathered more than 400 eggs from roadside nests!

Prepped eggs for the incubator
Prepped eggs for the incubator

The eggs are kept in a special reptile egg incubator that maintains a constant temperature. The incubator contains eggs from two species at risk: Blanding’s Turtles and Snapping Turtles.

Blanding’s Turtle eggs are oval, whereas Snapping Turtle eggs are round, like tiny ping-pong balls! Blanding’s Turtle clutches contain about a dozen eggs, whereas Snapping turtle nests contain 30-40 or more eggs. The eggs from each nest are placed in a separate container filled with damp vermiculite, an artificial potting soil mixture.

For most kinds of turtles, the sex of the hatchlings depends on the temperature of the nest. Colder summers will generally produce more male turtle hatchlings, whereas hot weather will lead to more females hatching out. Our incubator is set to a temperature somewhere in the middle to produce a roughly equal mix of male and female hatchlings.

Field researchers after preparing the incubator bins
Field researchers after preparing the incubator bins

The first eggs of the year were collected in early June, and will hopefully start to hatch in early August. After the eggs hatch, the hatchlings from each nest will be released near the site of their nest and close to water.

Road mortality and habitat destruction are some of the greatest threats facing turtles today. Protecting nests through caging and off-site incubation is an important step we can take to help preserve turtle populations.

Learn other ways how you can HelpTheTurtles.ca.

My First Day on the Job Helping At-risk Turtles

I woke up early with excitement on the morning of June 15th, 2017, because it was my first day working at Scales Nature Park. I didn’t know what my official job title was, but it didn’t matter – I was ecstatic to be given the chance to actively participate in the conservation of species at risk, which has been an ever-present passion of mine.

When I was five minutes away from the centre, I noticed a dark figure on the side of the road. As I slowed down, I saw that it was a Snapping Turtle that appeared to be nesting. I rushed into the building at 7:50 a.m. looking for someone to tell, and found people in the kitchen having breakfast. I asked if they would get their equipment and let me drive them to a nesting turtle. No one knew who I was yet, and they had their reservations about my claim that I worked there, but after some convincing I drove my new co-workers to her nest and we began processing. I witnessed how to safely capture, measure, sex, weigh, notch, GPS mark, and collect eggs for captive incubation. It was an exhilarating first hands-on experience that I hope never becomes routine for me.

Snapping Turtle © Tegan Cloes
Female Snapping Turtle being assessed after nesting, June 15, 2017. Photo: Tegan Cloes

On August 15th, a clutch of five Painted Turtle hatchlings was ready to be returned to the wild. We transferred them from their incubation container to a travelling container filled with one centimetre of water. After typing in the GPS coordinates, we drove and parked on the side of a road near the location of their nest. As we walked the rest of the way, we saw a Spring Peeper, a Watersnake and plenty of poison ivy. When we arrived at the exact nest location, we noticed an adult Painted Turtle basking on a nearby log! We carefully released the hatchlings in the vegetative edge of the wetland, and wished them luck on their journey ahead.

Painted Turtle Hatchling © Tegan Cloes
Painted Turtle hatchling after captive incubation at Scales Nature Park, August 15, 2017. Photo: Tegan Cloes

Turtles face many threats in Ontario, including habitat loss, road mortality, illegal collection, and an elevated number of predators. Scales Nature Park has partnered with the Canadian Wildlife Federation to run the START project (Saving Turtles At Risk Today), which aims to conserve six turtle species in central Ontario. One aspect of the project is a captive incubation program. Long-term research in Algonquin Park has shown that it takes approximately 1,400 Snapping Turtle eggs to produce 1 adult turtle about 20 years later. Turtle eggs are routinely eaten by animals such as raccoons and foxes. START project research suggests that about 80 per cent of turtle eggs in Muskoka will be eaten if interventions such as nest caging or captive incubation are not employed. Nest caging can be effective – but along roadsides it creates some challenges with driver safety, maintenance operation interference, and cage (or nest) theft or destruction. After two years of nest caging and monitoring research, the START project moved to captive incubation to avoid these issues.

Project staff and volunteers patrol roads during the nesting season (usually June) to watch for turtles and locate nests. The location of each nest is marked with a GPS and the eggs are excavated and placed carefully in plastic tubs for transport. They are later transferred to an incubation container and incubated for two to three months. A week after hatching, the babies are returned to the wetland or water body nearest to the original nest location.

Painted Turtle Hatchlings © Tegan Cloes
Painted Turtle clutch being released in the wetland closest to their nest, August 15, 2017. Photo: Tegan Cloes.

The START project has incubated approximately 8,000 eggs in 2017, including clutches of Snapping, Painted, Blanding’s, Map and Musk Turtles. Some eggs have already begun to hatch, and we look forward to releasing these hatchlings! Since most of these eggs would have been eaten in the wild, these hatchlings will provide a boost to our local turtle populations (although many of these turtles will be eaten by predators). The results of this work won’t be seen for years, so we hope this will be a long-term effort. You can get involved, by contacting startturtleproject@gmail.com.

To learn more about Canada’s freshwater turtles and what you can do to help protect species at risk, visit HelpTheTurtles.ca.

The Long-Anticipated Visitor

The special annual event that we look forward to in anticipation happened this year on June 11. We arrived home from a walk to find our old friend, Mama Snapping Turtle, on the laneway. We knew what was going to happen next. She moved slowly and steadily toward our woodpile. Next to the wood pile, she stopped and began to dig at the surface with her hind legs. She didn’t stay long at that place, however, before moving further along, where the soil was less compacted.

snapping turtle foot carolyn callaghanShe then got to the work of digging her nest. If you have ever watched a dog dig a hole, this is the antithesis. While a dog digs with its front paws, balancing its weight on its hind legs, a turtle balances on its front legs while the hind legs push dirt away in turns. Dogs typically dig with rapid pawing action; turtles dig slowly and deliberately. A Mama Snapper’s hind legs are equipped for digging, with large claws on wide feet.
snapping turtle laying eggs carolyn callaghan
I watched her lay her eggs, each a glossy white, perhaps the size of a pecan. I heard one clink as it landed against another egg in the nest. I wondered what the climatic conditions had in store for these particular eggs. Like many turtle species, Snapping Turtles have temperature-dependent sex determination. Eggs incubated at warmer temperatures produce high proportion of females and eggs incubated at cooler temperatures produce high proportion of males. Some scientist predict warming global temperatures will increase the risk of extinction for turtle species, as most of the eggs in a warmer environment will produce female turtles.
snapping turtle laying eggs close up carolyn callaghan
Just as dusk was settling, we saw her heading downhill, toward the pond. She moved with slow and steady determination. One front foot went forward, then the opposite hind foot, then the other front, and opposite rear. Every step was made with purpose. She seemed to epitomize mindfulness.
snapping turtle female grass carolyn callaghan
Curious to see how she would get to the pond, I followed her from a respectful distance. She moved along the laneway, turned left, then crossed the hedgerow, and again headed toward the pond. At the tall border of canary grass, she turned and began walking alongside the grass. I wondered if the tall grass was too much of a barrier and if she would walk all the way to the point, where no canary grass grows at the shoreline. But then she turned and pushed slowly through the grass. Once at the shore, she slipped into the water and walked a meter out before stopping and burying herself into the mud at the bottom of the pond. She seemed to be preparing herself for a long rest after a hard day’s labour.

We will keep watch over the nest and, in 80-90 days, we hope to see a toonie-sized hole in the soil, indicating that the hatchlings successfully dug themselves out to follow the scent of water to the pond. Last year I was lucky enough to see a hatchling on its way to the pond.  It was a miniature version of its mother, already looking ancient and wise.

Turtle Hurdles

The following story was written by CWF intern, Allison Pritchard. Photo: Ted Busby

 

The cars in front of us slowed and slightly swerved. As we came to the point that the cars were swerving around, I saw a dark mass on the road. Before I had time to register that the dark mass was a turtle, Carolyn—a Senior Conservation Biologist at the Canadian Wildlife Federation—had exclaimed, “we have to see if it’s alive!” She maneuvered the car onto the shoulder of the road and was half way out of the car before I had even undone my seatbelt.

The turtle was belly up in the center of the highway right on a pedestrian crosswalk. Carolyn ran to the cross walk and pressed the button to stop traffic. She patiently waited for the cars to come to a halt then ran out onto the road and lifted the turtle by the side of the shell and rushed it off the pavement and out of harms way. She gently placed the turtle on its shell and, after a quick inspection, it became clear that it was a snapping turtle and that it was still alive! Without hesitation, she hurried back to the car and reversed it towards the turtle so she could load it in the trunk.

In the meantime, I was still trying to wrap my head around what I was seeing. I am from the West where we don’t have turtles. I was in shock and felt sick to my stomach as I looked down at the helpless turtle and saw the small puddle of blood left on the road where it was hit.

A man had also stopped his car on the other side of the road and ran over as Carolyn carefully placed the turtle in the back of her car. He asked if there was anything he could do to help and said, “I don’t know where the turtle came from – there’s no water around here”. Carolyn responded, “There used to be habitat here before we developed it”. That statement had a profound impact on me. At that moment, everything that I have been learning in school about habitat loss was no longer just a concept, but something meaningful, significant and very real.

We took the turtle back to the Canadian Wildlife Federation office where we got a box to put the turtle in. While we were driving the turtle had managed to flip itself onto its feet and, for the first time, I saw the state of its injuries. The turtle’s shell was cracked in several places, there was blood dripping down its back and at the bottom of the shell some of the turtle’s innards were exposed through one of the cracks. We transferred the turtle as carefully as we could into the box and I volunteered to drive it to the Rideau Valley Wildlife Sanctuary where its injuries could be treated.

As I drove, I had time to process what I just seen and experienced. As I began to understand what had happened I burst in to tears. I was emotional because I knew the turtle was in pain. I was upset because I know that events like these happen every day and there is nothing that animals can do to prevent that. I was overcome with a feeling of compassion, helplessness, guilt and anger all at once.

If we had continued to drive past the turtle without checking to see if it was alive, I would have never felt these emotions and there is no way of knowing what the fate of the turtle would have been. It would have been easy to turn my head as we drove by, but I feel a large reason why some wildlife are so threatened is because we turn our heads too often.

Unfortunately the turtle passed away that night; however, the Rideau Valley Wildlife Sanctuary was able to save the 40 eggs she was carrying and is now incubating them. Although one life was tragically lost, 40 lives have been given a second chance.