Globally, turtles in and around cities face an uphill battle to survive, but a new Parks Canada-led initiative could help save up to 400 turtles each year in Rouge National Urban Park.

Urban turtles face significant pressures due to poaching, road mortality, habitat loss, disease and an abundance of predators. Left unchecked, super abundant urban predators such as raccoons, coyotes, some birds and even domestic cats have been found to decimate up to 100% of turtle nest eggs in certain areas of the Rouge. These are pressures that turtles in more pristine natural environments often don’t face, where denser vegetation and habitat cover helps add a measure of protection to vulnerable turtle eggs.

To give turtles in the Rouge a better chance of surviving – and simply hatching – Parks Canada has started a turtle incubation programme to raise turtles from the egg stage until they hatch and are able to be released back into the national park.

Ontario is home to eight native turtle species, all of which are considered species-at-risk federally, meaning there’s a chance they could disappear in many places across the province unless action is taken.

As part of the incubation program, the eggs of the four most common Rouge species – snapping turtle, painted turtle, northern map turtle, and Blanding’s turtle – will be collected each year during the nesting season from ‘high-risk’ areas such as roadways, trails and unpaved parking lots, where data collected by the Toronto Zoo and Parks Canada over the last six years suggests the risks of egg predation are extremely high.

Once the eggs have been collected they’ll be incubated for up to 60 days until they hatch, then released back into the park near where they were collected after Parks Canada staff complete important due diligence such as confirming the turtles are healthy.

No longer as vulnerable as they would have been in the park during the sensitive egg life stage, these young hatchlings will have a much improved chance of survival and could help to significantly increase the park’s turtle population in the years ahead.