"Road safety is a big hurdle — in particular, a stretch of Cootes Drive where “plenty of animals, not just turtles, are squelched” every year."
City’s turtles need your help, not your raccoons
Threatened turtles around the harbour need your help — and maybe even your garden.
A Burlington homeowner helped nearly double the area’s population of threatened Blanding’s turtles last summer by allowing Royal Botanical Gardens biologists to protect and monitor a nest that popped up in a flower bed.
“We tracked the mother to the nesting area, protected it, and we were actually on hand when (the eggs) hatched,” said Tys Theysmeyer, head of natural lands for the RBG.
“It was a bit of a miracle … We knew of only 10 (Blanding’s) turtles total beforehand, and by the end of that day the population had increased by eight. We scooped them up and delivered them right into the marsh.”
Hamilton’s turtles need more than one-day miracles to survive an ongoing population decline, however.
RBG biologists have been using radio transmitters to track native turtle species as part of an effort to create a recovery plan.
Two of the species that traditionally lived in the Cootes Paradise and Grindstone Creek area have disappeared completely — the wood turtle and the eastern spiny soft-shell.
Estimates for painted, snapping and northern map turtles remain in the hundreds, but fewer than 20 Blanding’s and five musk turtles remain.
On Thursday night, RBG officials will outline potential plans at a public meeting to protect and, they hope, recover those populations. Theysmeyer said the conservation agency wants to hear from the public to help prioritize potential “recruitment” strategies for dwindling turtle populations.
Road safety is a big hurdle — in particular, a stretch of Cootes Drive where “plenty of animals, not just turtles, are squelched” every year. Theysmeyer said experimental fencing along Cootes seems to have deterred some, but not all turtles from trying to cross the road in 2012.
Potential solutions include more road barriers, wildlife underpasses or even reducing the 80 km/h speed limit.
“At 50 (km/h), at least you have time to realize you’re about to hit a turtle,” he said.
Another lesser-known turtle killer is the soft-hearted, raccoon-dumping city resident.
Theysmeyer said homeowners trying to get rid of problem raccoons often catch-and-release the critters in the forested RBG land around Laking Garden, a popular turtle nesting ground.
That’s a problem, Theysmeyer said, because raccoons love turtle eggs.
“I know it sounds odd, but it probably happens at least once a week,” he said of illicit raccoon releases.
Residents can help by simply not moving wildlife around, Theysmeyer said, but also by recognizing and protecting turtle nests if they end up on private property.
The RBG hopes to incorporate resident feedback into a recovery plan due to be completed by the end of February.