“Turtles are disappearing faster than any other group of animals on the planet”
– Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation
We made it! Thanks to your generosity, the Kawartha Turtle Trauma Centre made it successfully through our busiest season on record! An unprecedented 662 turtles were admitted to KTTC compared to 242 last season – a near tripling of turtle patients at our hospital!
The good news is that we were able to help injured turtles from all across Ontario, from as far away as Sarnia, Kirkland Lake (8 hours north of Peterborough), and even from the Quebec border. Thanks to a highly successful outreach program, website, and busy media campaign, more and more people are learning about the very real threat that Ontario’s turtles will disappear, and the urgency of our work at KTTC. It is reassuring to know that, armed with that knowledge, more people are moving turtles safely off our roadways and out of harm’s way.
But there is sad news as well: While more turtles are being moved to safety, the number of injured turtles admitted to our hospital will continue to rise. Our current rented space is too small and we will remain at full capacity through the winter. As the need for our help increases, so does our need for space, food, medical supplies and other resources. At our current location we may be forced to limit the number of turtles we admit next season, an extremely difficult decision, as we are the only centre in Ontario that specializes in native turtles.
The major cause of injuries, especially in female turtles, is vehicles. Statistics show that here in southern Ontario, you are never more than 1.5 kilometres from a road, yet female turtles can travel several kilometres in search of a suitable place to lay their eggs. While many wild animals are hit on roadways, most species will have young from the previous season sexually mature and ready to contribute to the population. Turtles, however, can take from 8-25 years (depending on species) to reach sexual maturity. Thus, each adult turtle we save can have a positive effect on the entire population.
One exciting project we’re working on is our “Turtle Nursery.” We X-ray each injured female turtle to see if she is carrying eggs. If so, once she is stabilized, we provide a nesting box for her to lay her eggs. If a badly injured turtle doesn’t survive, we can harvest her eggs, which we carefully place in plastic bins, labeled with the mother’s details, since it’s critical to return them to where the mother was found. There are several reasons for this, including the need to ensure that bacteria, diseases, and parasites that are naturally occurring in one body of water are not transferred to another that may not be able to tolerate them. As well, returning hatchlings to the mother’s territory helps maintain her gene pool.
This season we managed to recover 72 batches of eggs, a total of over 1,000 eggs! Moisture is the key to successfully incubating turtle eggs, so each batch is carefully monitored by weighing them every few days and adding drops of water to compensate for any evaporation and maintain ideal moisture levels. Several dedicated volunteers repeated this process every few days for months! Finally, the eggs start to hatch. The first hatchlings this year were Blanding’s turtles that were lucky enough to be in an incubator the Toronto Zoo kindly donated to us.
Interesting turtle fact: In six of the eight species of Ontario turtles, temperature of the nest determines the sex, so some of the incubated eggs were kept warmer to help produce females.
Soon more eggs were hatching from most batches and at final count we had over 370 hatchlings from four different turtle species! While you may not consider 37% a good success rate, consider that less than 1% of turtle eggs in the wild make it to adulthood!
Once the hatchlings completely absorbed the yolk sacs on their abdomen and their lower shell (plastron) had closed around the spot, most were successfully released into the area where the mother was found. Thankfully, baby turtles require no maternal care; they are born with a pre-set survival instinct. Once cold weather hit, we determined that any turtles still hatching at our centre would remain in our care throughout the winter. In some species of turtles, late hatchlings will actually over-winter in the nest, almost freezing solid, and emerge the next spring. Of the 199 turtles that will be spending the winter with us, 126 of them are hatchlings. They will be released in spring 2012, just in time to make room for newly injured turtles to be admitted, treated, and rehabilitated. The cycle continues – with more demand every year.
Please help us continue this critical work by making a donation to provide care for all of the turtles remaining in our hospital. With the message spreading that turtles are speeding towards extinction, we must provide the highest quality of care for those we can help.
Any amount you would be kind enough to donate will help us help turtles.
With sincere thanks for your ongoing support,
Dr. Sue Carstairs,
Kawartha Turtle Trauma Centre