Parks Canada and the Toronto Zoo release 48 more Blanding’s Turtles into Rouge National Urban Park

On Friday June 21st 2019, Parks Canada, the Toronto Zoo, the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) reintroduced 48 more baby Blanding’s turtles into a wetland in Rouge National Urban Park. The Blanding’s Turtle Head-Start conservation program is a partnership between the former mentioned organizations to help recover this Endangered species.

This is the sixth year Blanding’s turtles – listed as Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and a provincially and nationally Threatened species – have been released in the park. The program which started in 2014 has now officially reintroduced 213 juvenile Blanding’s turtles into the wild in an effort to save the species.

The Blanding’s turtle release also falls on National Indigenous Peoples Day. On this day, we celebrate the heritage, cultures and achievements of Indigenous peoples in Canada. Turtles appear in many traditional stories including “How the turtle got its shell” and “How the Blanding’s turtle got its yellow chin”. The turtle also plays an essential role in the Creation story, as the Earth is formed on its back. Referred to as ‘the turtle with the sun under its chin,’ the Blanding’s turtle is significant to First Nations and we are proud to help re-introduce them into Rouge National Urban Park on this day.

These Blanding’s turtles were rescued as eggs from non-viable nests in a stable source population in southern Ontario and have been raised in a protected environment at the Toronto Zoo for two years. Giving these turtles a ‘head-start’ in life, the Zoo has raised them past their most vulnerable stages where they would otherwise have faced an increased chance of predation from animals like raccoons. The University of Toronto Scarborough is assisting with long term monitoring of the released turtles. Parks Canada, the TRCA, the OMNRF, and the Toronto Zoo believe that this type of head-starting and reintroduction of the turtles, along with long term monitoring and ongoing habitat restoration, are keys to the species’ survival in Rouge National Urban Park.

The public can help protect the turtles by avoiding their nesting areas and by contacting authorities if they observe harmful behavior toward turtles or suspicious behaviour in their habitat. The location of the wetland housing the reintroduced turtles will not be disclosed at this time to help minimize disturbances and give the animals the best chance of surviving.

The Toronto Zoo and TRCA began collecting information on and monitoring Blanding’s turtles in the Rouge Valley in 2005. Environment Canada and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry provided funding, permits and in-kind support for Blanding’s turtle monitoring in the Rouge Valley in previous years. Rouge National Urban Park is Canada’s first national park in an urban setting. Parks Canada is continuing to work on a long-term turtle monitoring program. Earth Rangers, an environmental conservation organization focused on engaging youth in the protection of nature, also provided support for the project by building a facility to house the turtle eggs and babies at the Toronto Zoo.