Slow and steady, turtles are an endearing part of Canada's wildlife. Despite their quiet, non-intrusive lives, turtles are under threat from human activities. The pet trade, food and traditional medicine industries, pollution, industrial fishing and habitat loss are all threatening these docile creatures.
Because of these hardships, it's important for people to be aware that May is a busy month for turtles. Turtles awake from winter hibernation in May and being their search for mates and nesting areas. For this reason, May 23 was designated World Turtle Day.
You can help turtles year-round:
- Don't get a turtle as a pet.
- Watch out for turtles on the road.
- Report turtle harassment, injury, or egg collection, especially if the species is endangered.
- If you are on the beach, steer clear of turtles and keep the lights down.
- Support turtle-protection laws.
The biggest danger to turtles this time of year are vehicles on roads. If you find a turtle on the road, this is what Turtle S.H.E.L.L. Tortue's website recommends:
Turtles of all ages will wander away from their home water bodies occasionally, but mainly it is the adult females that must struggle overland in the nesting season to find a suitable warm, sunny place to bury their eggs. Roads border many of our rivers, ponds and lakes where turtles live, so vehicles take a terrible annual toll on breeding females. Since turtles need a specific combination of conditions to lay their eggs -- southern exposure with its more direct sun, soft soil, the appropriate soil humidity, and little or no plant cover -- they often have no choice but to go far from the water in which they live. Female turtles may have used many of these sites for generations.
If you believe the animal to be in immediate danger and you wish to help, make a safe stop. Help it across the road in the direction in which it was heading or if it appears to be advancing toward more danger, take it to a nearby suitable environment. A swampy area with a sandy bank behind it would be ideal. If the turtle is obviously headed away from the water body in which it lives, do not take it back to the water. It will only retrace its steps to get to the nesting area.
Smaller species such as Painted Turtles or Blanding’s Turtles can simply be lifted and carried by hand or in a bucket or box. Be aware that they have claws and do not put your fingers near their beaks -- they are frightened and might bite.
Large Snapping Turtles are likely to bite and scratch so they should be handled carefully and by adults or older children only. Grasp the snapper at the base of the tail, lift it gently and point the beak away from your body. Carry it to the edge of the road to release it. If this method does not appeal to you try grabbing the tail and sliding the turtle onto a large flat shovel or piece of cardboard and dragging it to a safe release spot.
Important: On larger Snapping Turtles (over 30 cm/one foot in carapace length), the weight may be sufficient to break the tail if the animal is carried vertically. Use a shovel, plywood or cardboard and drag the animal. In all cases be aware that the turtle’s claws are strong and the beak is sharp. They can reach you if you are careless. Be prepared for frequent powerful lunges of the head.
To learn more about turtles in the Ottawa area, visit Turtle S.H.E.L.L. Tortue's website.
(Information from the HSUS and Turtle S.H.E.L.L. Tortue.)