Turtles and tortoises are among the most endangered group of vertebrate animals in the world: more than half of the 328 known species are threatened with extinction.
In Ontario, road mortality is one of the leading threats to turtles – but it is not the only one. Despite being listed as a species of special concern both federally and provincially, it is still legal to hunt and kill snapping turtles under the Fish & Widlife Conservation Act. The Kawartha Turtle Trauma Centre, Ontario Nature, and the David Suzuki Foundation, with funding from the Ivey Foundation, have released a report calling for a ban of snapping turtle hunting in the province of Ontario.
The life history of turtles makes them vulnerable to hunting, or other threats which target adults. They take almost 20 years to maturity – but less than 1% of the eggs laid will actually hatch and grow into an adult. A female snapping turtle that lays an average of 34 eggs per year would need to survive 58 to 60 years to replace herself in the population with another adult snapping turtle. It is therefore very important to the entire population that adults live as long as possible to ensure that they can lay eggs for decades.
Turtles are long-lived omnivores, and as such are prone to accumulate toxins over time, making them unfit for human consumption. A study of a small sample of adult snapping turtles that were found dead on the road was conducted to see whether they contained mercury and PCBs. Both muscle and fat tissue of 14 adult turtles was tested. The study found that most of the snapping turtles tested had high levels of PCBs in their fat tissue.
These are some actions you can take to help the snapping turtle survive:
- Call or write your local Member of Provincial Parliament and ask him or her to support an end to the snapping turtle hunt.
- Help turtles cross roads – with care. Move turtles in the direction they were going and not more than 100 metres from where you found them. Do not move turtles unless they are crossing the road, and do not disrupt females laying eggs.
- More information about how to safely move snapping turtles off roads is available from the Kawartha Turtle Trauma Centre website.
- Establish a monitoring group in your region if it is one of the hotspots; promote awareness about the plight of snapping turtles by putting up posters in your local library or post office.
- Report all observations of reptiles and amphibians, including snapping turtles, on roads to The Ontario Reptile and Amphibian Atlas at www.ontarionature.org/atlas.
- If you live near a turtle mortality hotspot, ask your municipal government or the provincial government to construct fencing and culverts in areas where turtles cross roads.
- Call on the federal government to ban the release of persistent, bioaccumulative toxic substances into the air and water.
Read the full report online at: Road to Extinction: a call to end the snapping turtle hunt
The story has received alot of attention from media across the country, including:The Toronto Star: Ontario snapping turtle endangered yet huntedThe National Post: Groups ask Ontario turtle hunters to snap out of itThe Toronto Sun: Ban snapping turtle hunt: AdvocatesThe Sudbury Star: Turtle hunt a toxic issueThe Vancouver Sun: Ban on snapping turtle harvest urgedThe Ottawa Citizen: Groups seek end to Ontario turtle huntThe Barrie Examiner: Turtle hunt a toxic issueThe Windsor Star: Coalition seeks ban on turtle hunt