by Kristen Dolenko
Easily identified by its domed shell and bright yellow markings, the Blanding’s Turtle is one of three turtle species most common in the Ottawa area. It is also considered a threatened and protected species at risk because of road mortality and the loss of wetland habitat in Ontario. Urbanization is at the heart of the Blanding’s Turtle blues.
RVWS has taken in and cared for 59 turtles so far in 2013, almost double those admitted in 2012. Most of these have been hit by vehicles as they cross roads.
When Terry Fox Drive extension (between Second Line and Richardson Side Road) was first proposed, an environmental assessment raised concerns about the potential impact of the road on the South March Highlands Blanding’s Turtle population. So the City of Ottawa added measures to its design and development plans to mitigate negative consequences of the road on the natural habitat.
Enter Dillon Consulting Limited (Dillon). Dillon was contracted by the City of Ottawa to design the new Terry Fox Drive extension. During the design process, several wildlife passages were added, consisting of wet and dry concrete culverts, and associated fencing and walls to help guide wildlife safely under the road.
In addition, the City contracted Dillon to undertake a four-year study of the Blanding’s Turtle in the area. Radio transmitters were attached to several turtles to help identify the most important nesting and over-wintering zones. Based on radio telemetry, Dillon suspects that turtles are using the culverts regularly to pass safely under the road.
However, it seems that Morgan, a female Blanding’s Turtle fitted with a radio transmitter, did not read the crossing signs. In early June, a Dillon employee found a turtle (pictured here) just after it had been hit by a car. Kevin Robinson quickly assessed the turtle’s injuries and brought it directly to RVWS for treatment. The sanctuary treats injured and orphaned wild mammals and turtles, and returns them to the wild once healed.
Although the turtle’s skin between its hind legs and bridge were torn, and both bridges slightly cracked, a veterinarian stitched up its injuries and it successfully recuperated at the sanctuary over the summer. Fortunately, Morgan was released back into the South March Highland area on Tuesday, August 27, 2013.
Ironically, Morgan’s injuries and resulting captivity during the summer may mean a better chance of survival for the turtle’s offspring. Morgan was gravid, or carrying eggs, upon arrival at the sanctuary and laid 15 eggs while recuperating. Thanks to incubation in a temperature and humidity-controlled environment, nine babies have hatched. Given less than one percent of Blanding’s turtle eggs survive to maturity at between 16 and 25 years, the sanctuary hopes these hatchlings will have a good head start back in the wild.
Sadly, many turtles aren’t so lucky.
Internal injuries are the leading cause of turtle road mortality. Other injuries, while treatable, are costly. Veterinarian services, x-rays, pain medications, antibiotics, subcutaneous fluids, and special equipment account for just the initial expenditures required to save a turtle’s life. Because the healing process takes time, the sanctuary must not only give of their own time, but also provide food and shelter, often up to a full year, to enable a turtle to fully recover.
To find out more about the Blanding’s Turtle and its special connection with the South March Highlands, you can read Dillon’s interim report, Blanding’s Turtle Conservation Needs Assessment, on the City’s website (http://ottawa.ca/sites/ottawa.ca/files/smh_blan… t_final_report.pdf).