On June 21, the Toronto Zoo, Parks Canada and the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) reintroduced 36 baby Blanding's Turtles to a wetland that will be part of Rouge National Urban Park in the Greater Toronto Area (Canada’s first national urban park).
This is the third year Blanding’s Turtles have been released in the park. In June 2015, the same group of partners collaborated on the release of 21 baby Blanding’s Turtles in the Rouge and in June 2014, 10 baby turtles were released.
The long-lived species, with a life span of up to 80 years, has inhabited the Rouge Valley for thousands of years, though prior to 2014 its future was uncertain, with as few as six Blanding’s Turtles remaining.
“Blanding’s Turtles are a flagship species representing a group of animals facing a variety of threats," said Dr. Andrew Lentini, Curator of Reptiles and Amphibians, Toronto Zoo. "Seven of eight turtle species in Ontario are at risk and need our help. All Canadians can learn how to help turtles by visiting Toronto Zoo’s Adopt-A-Pond website and by reporting sighting to Toronto Zoo’s Ontario Turtle Tally.”
In February 2016, Minister of the Environment and Climate Change, and Minister responsible for Parks Canada Catherine McKenna announced that Parks Canada would be making a $150,000 contribution to the Toronto Zoo to support the Blanding’s head start program in the Rouge.
“Blanding's Turtles are an important indicator of a healthy park,” said Pam Veinotte, Parks Canada's Superintendent responsible for Rouge National Urban Park. "Parks Canada is dedicated to re-establishing a healthy, local population of this threatened turtle species in Rouge National Urban Park now and for future generations, and we are thankful for the opportunity to collaborate with the Toronto Zoo and other wonderful partners to conserve and restore threatened species in Canada's first national urban park.”
The turtle eggs were collected from a stable source population in southern Ontario in 2014 and have been raised in a controlled environment at the Toronto Zoo over the last two years. The University of Toronto Scarborough has joined this head-starting project and is assisting with long-term monitoring of the released turtles. Parks Canada, the TRCA and the Toronto Zoo believe that this type of head starting and reintroduction of the turtles, along with long-term monitoring and ongoing habitat restoration, are keys to the animal’s survival in the future Rouge National Urban Park.
The local public can help protect the turtles by avoiding their nesting areas and by contacting authorities if they observe harmful behavior toward turtles or suspicious behavior in their habitat. The location of the wetland housing the reintroduced turtles will not be disclosed at this time to help minimize disturbances and give the animals the best chance of surviving.
The Toronto Zoo and TRCA began collecting information on and monitoring Blanding’s Turtles in the Rouge Valley in 2005. Environment Canada and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry provided funding, permits and in-kind support for Blanding’s Turtle monitoring in the Rouge Valley in previous years. With the area slated to become Canada’s first national urban park, Parks Canada has come on board and will continue to work on a long-term turtle monitoring program.
Earth Rangers, an environmental conservation organization focused on engaging youth in the protection of nature, also provided support for the project by building a facility to house the turtle eggs and babies at the Toronto Zoo.
Blanding's Turtle (Emys blandingii or Emydoidea blandingii) is a semi-aquatic turtle of the family Emydidae. This North American turtle is considered to be an endangered species throughout much of its range.
This species' range centers on the Great Lakes, and extends from central Nebraska and Minnesota, eastward through southern Ontario, and the south shore of Lake Erie as far east as northern New York. There are also isolated populations in southeastern New York, New England and Nova Scotia. Its general habitat is wetlands with clean shallow water. It is known to bask on logs, and will wander far from water, particularly when nesting.
This species is a medium-sized turtle with an average shell length of 18 to 23 cm (7.1 to 9.1 in) and a max of 25.5 cm (10.0 in). A distinguishing feature of this turtle is the bright yellow chin and throat.
Blanding's Turtles take 14–20 years to reach sexual maturity. Mating usually occurs in April and early May, with nesting beginning in early June and lasting throughout the month. The clutch size varies from region to region.
The primary threat to Blanding's Turtle is habitat fragmentation and destruction, as well as nest predation by unnaturally large populations of predators. The species is listed as “Endangered” on the IUCN Red List. It is also considered endangered in some U.S. states, and listed as either “Threatened” or “Endangered” throughout Canada, (though it has no federal status in the United States).