Turtle team: helping species at risk

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ur Environment by Katharine Fletcher

David Seburn is the Canadian Wildlife Federation’s (CWF’s) Freshwater Turtle Specialist. On June 26, CBC broadcasted an interview where reporter Hallie Cotnam spoke with him, roadside, while a snapping turtle was laying her eggs.

ur Environment by Katharine Fletcher

David Seburn is the Canadian Wildlife Federation’s (CWF’s) Freshwater Turtle Specialist. On June 26, CBC broadcasted an interview where reporter Hallie Cotnam spoke with him, roadside, while a snapping turtle was laying her eggs.
Why such turtle interest? It’s because all eight of our Canadian freshwater turtles are species at risk. Even our seemingly ubiquitous Painted Turtle is at risk, plus
the Blanding’s, Spotted, Snapping, Wood, Spiny Softshell, Northern Map and Eastern Musk turtles.
Other than nest predation, once again, it’s human causes which directly endanger turtles: habitat loss, poaching for the pet trade and road deaths. These are the four main causes of turtle endangerment.
The team
This significant, sad fact of all eight Canadian freshwater species being at risk prompted the CWF to create a four-person “turtle team” to locate turtle nests, dig up the eggs and place them in an incubator at the CWF in Ottawa. Once hatched, team members return them to a wetland near the original nest site.
 Intervention: playing God
Why intervene? Isn’t this decline in species “just Mother Nature’s way” and “inevitable”?
No, as a matter of fact, not at all. Unsurprisingly, humans are significant players in the reptile’s demise.
Seburn noted that 50-80 % of turtles die from two primary causes: road kills and predation (with habitat loss from wetlands being drained/paved as a significant cause, too).
Explains Seburn, “We are playing God, there’s no question about that, but we’re playing God anyway. We build roads that go right through wetlands. That’s very stressful to turtles. We’re running them over by the hundreds every year.”
Seburn is not exaggerating.
The CWF’s website lists a sobering fact: 770 turtle
roadkills were found in the Ottawa and Muskoka area in 2017 alone.
Considering that a snapping turtle comes into sexual maturity at 20 years of age, and that road kills are primarily females because they’re in nesting mode, we have an understandable, devastating, species survival problem on our hands.
Predators
Because we’ve disrupted the natural food chain and biodiversity so egregiously, even nest predation can be linked to human causes. Racoons love turtle eggs – and racoons have very successfully integrated with human beings. Meanwhile, other predators that keep racoons in check (wolves, cougars, bobcats, to name a few) have suffered population decimation, directly because of humans. And it’s not just because of habitat loss. Many people purposefully eradicate such “varmint” species, trapping them for pelts or shooting them (even poisoning them) because we believe they endanger us and our livestock.
Now let’s consider the food chain. Predators love eating nutritious, deliciously warm turtle eggs. Imagine what a find such nests are for a hungry animal. And because Snapping Turtles usually lay 20-40 eggs in soft, gravel or sand, they represent a feast. (One study suggests that sometimes this species lays up to 100 eggs).
Being turtle-wise
Particularly during nesting time, we can help turtles. How? Here are some ways (from CWF website).
Building a nest protector: If you find a nest, try building a nest protector. Detailed instructions are found here: bit.ly/2LiTyU5. Note that nests on road shoulders mustn’t be protected, simply because any protector can impede road maintenance, and also could be a danger to vehicles/cyclists/horseback riders.
Help a turtle cross a road: How to do this, safely for the turtle and you? Watch the video at the CWF website here (scroll down to find the video under “featured story” at cwf-fcf.org/en/explore/turtles/).
Briefly, never ever pick up a turtle by its tail. And please, never kick it across the
road (“unbelievably”, like someone I was with did, right in front of me and yes, I
have photos and yes, I stopped him). Never, ever, bring it home to put in
your pond (yes, like I did when I was completely uneducated: it’s one of the things I regret!).
Always take a turtle to the side of the road to which it was heading.
Please consider the wild animals. Consider their
homes – what we call “Nature.” And please? Educate yourself on how to help turtles – and frankly, every other species. We don’t have the right to wantonly kill by eradicating their homes.