Archive for August 2011

Turtle Rescue!   Leave a comment

Fifty-eight days and hundreds of kilometers later, The Turtle, captured June 2nd, was released back to the swamp wilds of Rondeau Provincial Park, July 31st. Here is his story!

Here you can see the whitish scar-tissue where the tail has healed from a major injury and the vertebrae emerging from inside the tail due to improper healing. Exposed bone can get infected and cause furhter problems to the turtle, which is why it was sent to the KTTC. (Photo: C. Davy)

It had been a regular June day in the wetland, checking hoop traps and notching turtles for our research project. I was accompanied by a volunteer, which proved fortunate. The last and farthest trap to check yielded the most interesting discovery of the summer. We waded out and checked this trap and found that the sardines we used as bait had attracted a big old catfish…. And this catfish had in turn attracted 5 massive snapping turtles. By the time we got to the trap, all except the face of the catfish was gone and five satiated turtles were left. We took two out and processed them. Then we took the three remaining turtles out…and that is when I saw him.  A big snapping turtle, with a very long tail, who had something wrong with the last third of his tail. It was completely white and 3 times the size it should have been – and somehow the bones in his tail had ended up on the outside of the tail!

This looked like a job for the Kawartha Turtle Trauma Centre (www.kawarthaturtle.org). So I picked The Turtle up, put him in the trunk of my little car, and drove back to trailer I was currently calling home.

I found a large plastic container in the trailer that appeared to be big enough and placed The Turtle in the box. After another check of the hoop traps (which yielded nothing), I came back to check on The Turtle. He seemed to be fine and since I had the rest of the night off, I took one last quick peek of The Turtle and left Rondeau. I went to nearby Windsor for of and left the city later than I had intended so it was late upon my return. The field station, the trailer I live in, is in a fenced in yard with no lights. So after I parked my car, I found my flashlight to walk up the porch. The light from my flashlight bounced around as I opened the door and it eventually settled on an overturned box…the box The Turtle was in…had been in. He had escaped.

The Turtle turned out to be an escape artist and was not content to stay in his holding box... (Photo: A. Leifso)

I flipped on all the lights and found The Turtle under the TV table. I took some time to inspect him to make sure he hadn’t injured himself in the great escape. He looked perfectly fine (aside from his tail) and completely at ease. I went around and closed all the inside doors and looked for damage or any trouble he might have gotten himself into…none. Apparently, The Turtle had just wanted to escape from the confines of the box. At this point it was late, and I thought… How much havoc could a snapping turtle wreak if left free? I didn’t have another container. He obviously did not want to be in the container but more importantly he could get out anyways. So I let him be. All the doors were securely closed now. I am a light sleeper and would hear anything out of the ordinary. And I had moved anything and everything that could possibly be dangerous to him so there was no way The Turtle could harm himself. The next morning I awoke early to check on him.  And…he hadn’t moved an inch. I took out a spritz bottle and sprayed The Turtle with a little water.

That day I drove him to Guelph where a KTTC volunteer picked him up and took him to the Kawartha Turtle Trauma Centre in Peterborough.

Fast forward 58 days. The staff at the KTTC did an incredible job, and The Turtle was ready to go back to the wild. The very tip of The Turtle’s tail had been amputated and all bits of infection removed. A large portion of thick, white flesh still remained and this turned out to be a large amount of harmless, discoloured scar tissue. I picked him up in downtown Toronto with the help of a volunteer and drove him back to Rondeau. We then carried him down to the site where I had originally collected him. While we were walking, The Turtle’s mood shifted from calm to energetic. Whether he became agitated or excited, I’m not sure, but the closer we got to his home the more aggressively he tried to escape the box. Again. When we finally got there, I removed him from the box and walked him down to the water, with him snapping at me all the while. The last I saw of him was a flick of his big white tail splashing the surface as he descended into the water deep.

– Ashley Leifso

Turtle Release! (Photos: J. Paterson)

Posted August 12, 2011 by thinkingturtles in Uncategorized

Something spotted this way comes…   Leave a comment

Wild spotted turtles can experience and do things which captive turtles cannot. (Photo: C.Davy)

Spotted turtles, like the one in this photo, have very small home range sizes compared to most turtle species. This means they don’t travel very far during their lifetime. When large amounts of wetland are converted to urban or farmland which spotted turtles cannot cross easily, populations of spotted turtles can become isolated from one another. Because spotted turtles usually don’t travel long distances, the populations may not be able to reconnect again. Over time, these populations may become genetically different from one another, and develop their own “genetic signature”.

One of the big threats facing spotted turtles in Ontario is that people collect them to keep as pets. Check out the photo – they are definitely beautiful animals, so people find them very attractive. But many people don’t understand why it’s a really bad idea to take a wild turtle home with you. They don’t understand that it is illegal to take home a spotted turtle, or that an aquarium in your home – even a very nice one – can provide almost none of the things that a turtle is used to in the wild. And they don’t understand that once a turtle has been removed from the wild, it usually has to stay in captivity for the rest of its life – which might be much longer than the life of a human.

Sometimes turtles are confiscated from people who have collected them illegally. Some of these animals could be returned to the wild – but we often don’t know exactly where they came from. Turtles are familiar only with their own, specific home range. They may not be able to survive just anywhere – they may not be able to find enough food or a good place to hibernate if they are put into a new, unfamiliar area. If you release a turtle or another reptile into an area it doesn’t know, it is unlikely to survive. So illegally collected turtles can’t be released back to the wild unless we can identify the population they came from.

One of the projects I am working on is a study of the genetics of spotted turtles in Ontario. We are using samples from Ontario Spotted Turtles to identify the genetic signature of each population, and our hope is that we will one day be able to use these genetic signatures to figure out where illegally collected turtles came from. This way, some of those animals can be returned to the wild, and continue their lives as wild turtles!

– Christina Davy

Posted August 8, 2011 by thinkingturtles in Uncategorized

Welcome!   Leave a comment

A Spotted Turtle basking beside a small weedy pool.

Welcome to ThinkingTurtles, a blog about turtle conservation in Ontario and a place to think about turtle conservation in general!

The goal of this site is to explore the issues around turtle conservation and try to think about ways we could do a better job of saving our turtles. We will think about some of the problems facing turtles (especially in Ontario), and some of the ways in which we can help to solve them. There are obviously no easy solutions. We would love to hear your thoughts about any of the issues discussed here, so please feel free to comment on any posts you enjoy, have thoughts about, disagree with or otherwise!

Posted August 1, 2011 by thinkingturtles in Uncategorized