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Province's turtles now considered at-risk

Andrew Philips

By Andrew Philips, Special to Postmedia Network

Submitted photo
The Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre runs a turtle trauma hospital and a hatchling program. Based near Peterborough, the facility has seen a huge upswing in the number of injured turtles admitted so far this year.

Submitted photo The Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre runs a turtle trauma hospital and a hatchling program. Based near Peterborough, the facility has seen a huge upswing in the number of injured turtles admitted so far this year.

Area residents aren't the only ones complaining about this spring and summer's weather patterns.

The varied temperatures and higher precipitation totals may have also taken their toll on the province's turtle population with more reports of the hard-shelled reptiles being hurt or killled crossing area roads.

"The temperatures are different from last year, which is causing turtles to travel more," said Courtney Paterson of the Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre.

"They'll travel more in hot conditions."

The centre's executive and medical director Dr. Sue Carstairs agreed.

"The issue this year is probably multi-faceted," Carstairs said. "The weather has been conducive for turtles to be on the move a lot; i.e. not too hot and not too cold."

Last year, the Selwyn-based charity admitted 320 turtles requiring care, but that figure has more than doubled so far this year with 643 slowpokes coming through the facility's doors.

Orillia-area naturalist Bob Bowles, who noted higher rain levels has also led to some flooding and, in turn, more turtle mobility, said one area that's particuarly dangerous for turtles in Orillia remains Atherley Road near Tudhope Park as they try to move between marshy areas between Lakes Couchiching and Simcoe.

Paterson said turtles are also experiencing habitat loss due to construction sites popping up throughout the area and must now travel to find new nesting grounds.

"If people bring them in, we try and do the best we can for them," she said, noting seven of the province's eight turtle species are now considered at-risk.

"Hopefully, we can release them into the wild after that."

Paterson said the centre's staff will provide medications and any fluids required to bring the turtles back to health with Carstairs able to perform surgery on those requiring it for issues like a fractured carapace.

"The shells are made of bone so we consider that like a fracture," Paterson said.

The Peterborough-area facility will also co-ordinate a ride to transport injured turtles requiring care from other locales since it works with more than 30 turtle first response centres across Ontario.

Carstairs said the increase in admissions this year could also be related to greater public awareness about the centre's role.

"We have been doing a lot of outreach so we have been receiving a lot more turtles from across the province," she said. "Our hospital is one arm of our conservation programs -- we also run a large education program."

As examples, Carstairs noted the centre operates a field research radio project that tracks some young Blanding's turtles hatched at the facility and has a large hatchling program.

Added Carstairs: "We currently have 2,000 eggs incubating (that) all come from the turtles admitted to our hospital."

For more information, visit ontarioturtle.ca.

andrewphilips@live.ca



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