Our hatchling, or “headstarting,” program came about as a natural extension of the hospital. Since half the admitted turtles are females and a lot of these are carrying eggs, we wanted to make sure that these eggs were not lost. The turtles take a long time to recover, and so are not able to be released in time to continue laying their eggs in the wild. As a result, we collect the eggs (we actually induce them the same way that humans are induced!), incubate, and hatch them at the centre. This allows these babies to be released back into the mother’s wetland. We collect approximately 3-5000 eggs per year. Of course some are not fertile, and the condition of the mothers make some eggs not viable, but approximately 65% hatch successfully, and are either released the same season, or kept over winter and released in the spring.
Sadly, not all turtles survive, but we are able to collect eggs even from deceased turtles. This way, we help to ensure that their genes are not lost to the population. These babies are given a “headstart’ in life, which greatly increases their survival, and ensures that they will go on to replace their mother in the population.
To ensure that we are maximizing this “success,” we are carrying out field studies to follow a group of these headstarted turtles, alongside a group of wild-hatched juveniles, to compare their survival, growth, behaviour, and habitat use. This way we can learn how to best carry out this headstarting project, to ensure maximum survival. The field studies came about as a natural extension of the headstarting program, and together all of our programs help to augment populations of turtles across the province.