The cute, slow, humble turtle* has existed for over 200 million years, making it older than most of its reptile cousins, including lizards. Today there are about 300 species ranging from those beautiful, graceful sea turtles to tiny little stinkpot turtles, the latter being one of Ontario’s eight native species. Of these eight, despite their hardiness and longevity, seven are under threat. Like many other species the turtle is facing a range of threats and problems, the most apparent when SONSI members met this past Thursday, are roads. Thankfully there are people like our guide, Brennan (Brennan Caverhill, MSc, Toronto Zoo Species at Risk Biologist) who seems to work unremittingly for the cause of these animals.
SONSI members met with Brennan at a well-mapped spot in the evening; the meeting began with a quick talk and a quiz (with prizes!). Then we headed off down the road in the hope of spotting a turtle basking on a log or in one of Brennan’s cunning traps. Sadly and most poignantly, we found remains of a turtle by the roadside very shortly after the walk began. Our guide, after identifying the species took specific GPS information and a documentary photograph – a practice that all members of the public are encouraged to do, with the addition of calling in all sightings, (visit, http://www.torontozoo.com/adoptapond/TurtleTally.asp for more information and an excellent site on Ontario pond life). Reminders of our environmental impact aside, everyone was treated to a tour of the areas that turtles can be found. May and June is the time of year that, after coming out of hibernation, turtles nest and lay their eggs. Members were taught how to spot these painstakingly created pits.
Getting covered in twigs, mud and insect bites was all part of the fun along with the usual plethora of previously unthought of facts and finds that get shared on every SONSI hike. It is probably safe to say that all attending members learned a great deal about turtles, their habitat, and our impact of their survival, both negative and positive. I can certainly say that I have a newfound affection and concern for these reptiles and will certainly make sure to stop and help one cross the road whenever I can. After returning to the meeting point, a demonstration of radio tracking equipment used on the turtles helped members to further understand the techniques used by conservationists to obtain much of their data. The breaking of a (most certainly abandoned, deceased egg) that was found floating on one of the ponds ended the meeting, mostly due to the stench but not before our wonderful guide gave us all some information about the Toronto Zoo, Adopt A Pond conservation program to take home. Thanks and appreciation should go to Brennan for this excellent and eye-opening SONSI meeting. Lastly, members might like to pick up the following book, recommended by Brennan: “The Year of the Turtle: A Natural History” written and lovingly illustrated by David M. Carrol.
(*Note: There seems to be a lot of different uses of the names, “turtle”, “tortoise” and “terrapin”, I’ve opted to be safe and use “turtle” as a catch all.)