By Jerelyn Craden
Special to the Times
Published April 27 2017
Ontario’s decision to end hunting of snapping turtles has given the David Suzuki Foundation Canadian Herpetological Society Ontario Nature and the Haliburton Highlands Land Trust (HHLT) some relief.
“The snapping turtle is Canada’s largest freshwater turtle” said HHLT chair Mary-Lou Gerstl “and until now was the only turtle that could be legally hunted. It is currently listed as Special Concern under the Ontario Endangered Species Act and the Federal Species at Risk Act. A legalized hunt that entitled people to kill up to two snapping turtles a day went against the designation and efforts of conservationists to protect them. There was definitely a mixed message being sent. Needless to say the HHLT welcomes the news wholeheartedly.”
The Land Trust just completed a three year Turtle Road Mortality Mitigation Project with funding received from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry. Time and money were spent to build a barrier wall and underpass on Gelert Road that proved to successfully keep turtles off the road by providing safe passage.
Sheila Ziman founding member of HHLT and volunteer loves the snapping turtle. For three years she worked on the turtle mortality project monitoring its activities.
“I watched a big female lay her eggs one night” Ziman said. “She went to the side of the road where it’s sandy and dug a hole with her back legs. Then she laid her eggs and covered them up. It was an enormous effort. A raccoon was eyeing her all this time. Then when I saw it approach I screamed and it ran away. Unfortunately most turtle eggs are eaten by predators.”
“If hatchlings do survive” she added “they’re tiny – about one centimetre across -– they’re vulnerable. Their shell is smaller than other types of turtles so they can’t pull in their head and limbs for safety. That’s why they snap when they sense danger. When they do survive they can live up to 100 years.”
Gerstl is concerned about the future of the snapping turtle.
“Threats to its survival are enormous even without the hunting. They don’t begin to reproduce until they are 15 to 19 years old. Very few of the eggs they lay make it to maturity. Their wetland habitats are threatened by development and climate change… and many are killed on the roads while trying to get to or return from their nesting sites.”
“They do play an important role” she added.“They’re bottom feeders. 90 per cent of their diet consists of various aquatic plants invertebrates as well as fish frogs snakes and small turtles aquatic birds and relatively fresh carrion. In this way the snapping turtle helps keep lakes and wetlands clean.”
Gerstl hopes readers will take this to heart: “When you see a turtle crossing the road help it along. If it’s a snapping turtle hold the back of the shell and ‘wheel barrel’ it in the direction it’s going. Or if you don’t want to touch it carry a small shovel in your car and help it along.”