How you can help save turtles in RNUP and Ontario
There are eight species of turtles in Ontario and all eight of them are listed as Species at Risk. On top of that, three of the eight species are listed as Endangered. Although there are several factors contributing to their decline in population, one of the biggest threats to turtles is road mortality.
There are four species of turtles that can be found in Rouge National Urban Park (RNUP) – the Midland Painted Turtle, the Snapping Turtle, the Blanding’s Turtle and the Northern Map Turtle. If you spot any of these turtles on roadways in and around the park, here is what you can do to help:
How to help a turtle cross the road:
- First and foremost, ensure that you are able to pull over to the side of the road, and exit your vehicle safely. Be aware of on coming traffic. Although it is important to help turtles on the road, your safety should be your number one concern.
- Approach the turtle from behind and pick it up with two hands in the middle of the turtle’s shell like a hamburger.
- Never pick a turtle up by the tail, it can cause serious spinal injuries!
- Help the turtle cross the road in the direction it is facing, even if you think it looks like there is nicer habitat behind it. There is a reason the turtle is going that direction and if you bring it back to where it already was, it will just try to cross the road again.
- Make sure you take the turtle right off the shoulder of the road and into the ditch to make sure it is completely safe and far away from traffic.
How to help a snapping turtle cross the road:
- Always approach a snapping turtle from behind.
- Lift the turtle up only from the back half of the turtle over top of its hind legs. Snapping turtles have long necks that can reach around and snap at you if you are holding it too close to its face.
- If you don’t feel comfortable picking up a snapping turtle, grab a nearby stick and wave it in front of the turtle’s face until it bites it and latches on. From there you essentially have a snapping turtle on a leash and can walk it across the road in the direction it was facing.
- Another tip is to have a small shovel in your car to help push the turtle from behind to the side of the road.
What to do if you find an injured turtle
- Once again ensure you are safe when exiting your vehicle and you are watching for oncoming traffic.
- Be very careful when moving the injured turtle as you don’t want to cause any more damage.
- Place the turtle inside a dry box with air holes.
- Do no try to feed the turtle.
- Call the Rouge National Urban Park turtle "shell phone" at 416-938-3017 and/or the Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre at 705-741-5000 to get the turtle to proper rehabilitators as soon as possible.
- Turtles are extremely resilient. Even if the turtle’s injuries look very severe, follow these steps and get it to a rehabilitator as soon as possible. Many turtles with extremely serious injuries have still made full recoveries.
What to do if you find a turtle nest in RNUP?
Turtle nests are at high risk of destruction and predation. To help protect them, RNUP staff install predator exclusion cages that help keep the nests safe from predators and other factors that could destroy the nest. These exclusion cages are checked frequently, and have escape holes for the little turtles to get out once they are hatched. Where these cages are not possible, staff have permits and will collect the eggs and incubate them until the turtles have hatched and are able to be released back into the park where the eggs were originally found.
Turtles usually build their nests on sandy or gravel areas. A female turtle will dig up a hole, lay her eggs and then cover the hole for the eggs to incubate. Once the female leaves her eggs, the nest location is fairly unnoticeable, it will just look like a patted down disturbed patch of soil, gravel or sand. We want to help protect as many turtle egg nests in the park as possible.
If you see a female building a turtle nest in the park, take note of the location and please call the Rouge National Urban Park turtle "shell phone" at 416-938-3017 to let staff know so we can properly protect it.