Snapping Turtle on a Road Shoulder

Snapping Turtle on a Road Shoulder (photo: Christine Jennings)

Ontario has eight native turtle species, seven of which have been listed by both the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) and by the Committee on the Status of Species at Risk in Ontario (COSSARO) as species at risk. Turtles are long-lived species that have delayed sexual maturity and low reproductive output. As a result, declines in turtle numbers seriously threaten population stability. In Ontario, road mortality has been identified as a serious threat for turtles. Non-governmental organizations, such as the Kawartha Turtle Trauma Centre (KTTC), provide an essential component for turtle recovery in Ontario.

A data management study was conducted at KTTC to summarize data gathered in 2011. Summaries included species, sex and life stage of turtles admitted, when turtles were most prone to injury, and the primary cause of injury. From the study it was found that the primary reason (77%) for adult turtles to be admitted to the centre was because of a car-related incident (hit by car and suspected to be hit by a car). The majority of car-related collisions occurred in June with the greatest portion of that being females (43%) (see bar graph below) whereas the highest portion of collisions for adult males was in May at 11%. The majority of adult turtles (54%) died as a result of their injuries sustained in a car related incident. From that, 33% were female, 15% were male, and 6% were unknown. However, 30% of the adult turtles, half of which were female, brought to the centre due to a car related incident were treated and released back into the wild contributing to the recovery of species at risk (SAR) turtles.

The majority of collisions occurred in June with females most likely because nesting season typically occurs from the end of May to the end of June. Female freshwater turtles may travel up to 1 km from the water in search of a suitable nest site, during which they may attempt to cross roads. As well, roadsides provide attractive nesting sites because of the open canopy and well-drained soils increasing their risk of collision.

We obtained spatial data for turtles found and brought into KTTC for 106 turtles in 2010 and 170 turtles in 2011. We transcribed the described location to x and y coordinates (decimal degrees) using Google Earth and then mapped the locations. The majority (88.8%) of turtles had an estimated spatial accuracy of less than ±100m for the 2011 data, however to obtain relatively accurate information (< ±100 m) at least 80% of the finders had to be contacted to obtain a better location description.

Map of the injured turtle locations in the Kawarthas

Map of the injured turtle locations in the Kawarthas

KTTC’s efforts are more than just healing injured turtles; they collect valuable information that is essential for conservation efforts and contributing to the development of recovery plans. Community members can assist the centre’s efforts by first driving carefully from May to June and avoiding injuring turtles altogether, but also by taking careful note of the exact location where an injured turtle was found, either with a GPS unit or by recording the road name and closest road intersection. This information enables the centre to compile accurate location data which can be mapped to identify when, where, and how turtles are being injured. In turn, this information can be put to good use by prioritizing outreach efforts, informing the development of recovery plans, and informing the placement of mitigation, such as turtle crossing tunnels and signs.

Myra Juckers, Bachelor of Science Candidate in Environmental and Resource Science, Trent University, Peterborough, Ontario

Kari Gunson, Principal, Eco-Kare International, Peterborough, Ontario