Ottawa sanctuary seeing spike in turtle injuries

Across Ontario, wildlife centres say they are seeing more turtles injured this year than usual. In Ottawa, snapping turtles crossing the roads are the most prominent victims.

Large snapping turtles being brought to Rideau Valley Wildlife Sanctuary

Staff at the Rideau Wildlife Sanctuary are using wire and epoxy to piece the shell of this painted turtle back together. (Jade Groom-Pike)

As Ontario's main turtle trauma centre is facing a significant number of injured turtles this year, an Ottawa wildlife sanctuary says it is also noticing a higher number of the injured reptiles than usual. 

This week, the Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre — based in Peterborough, Ont. — said it is over capacity after having taken in nearly 600 injured turtles so far this year. The centre recently declared a state of emergency. 

The situation at the Rideau Valley Wildlife Sanctuary isn't much better. Supervisor Olivia Cotnam told CBC Radio's All in a Day host Alan Neal the Ottawa-based centre is seeing an influx of large snapping turtles that have been hit by cars. 

"Really, one per cent of eggs tend to reach maturity so every single turtle counts. When you lose a single adult turtle you're losing up to 20 years of ecosystem resources and that turtle may not even had a chance to reproduce yet," Cotnam said. 

"It is the larger adults who are, arguably, the most important to their population in terms of reproduction and we're losing a lot of those."

Olivia Cotnam, supervisor at the Rideau Valley Wildlife Sanctuary, says most of the turtles that come into her centre are larger ones that have been hit by vehicles. (Trevor Pritchard/CBC)

No one knows for sure why there is an increase in injuries this year, according to Cotnam. But she said one possible explanation is the increase in wet weather over the spring could have driven the turtles out closer to the road. She also pointed to a loss of habitat due to construction of new roads as a possible reason for the increase. 

"We need to do more. We need more signs, we need more fencing. Or we need to try new things, like underpasses," she said. 

"These animals have been evolving for thousands of years and they are irreplaceable." 

Last month, the sanctuary posted a photo of turtle eggs, some of which were extracted from turtles that were injured on roadways.

The centre doesn't have the ability to perform surgery, but it can treat cracked shells by using a combination of tools, such as cable ties, brackets, and wire.

"Once you join the edges it will actually heal. It can take a very long time, but it heals just like a broken arm would," she said.

Turtles that require more advanced care are sent to the centre in Peterborough. 

Amy Henson, a biologist with Science North in Sudbury, Ont., told CBC News people can help turtles cross the road if it is safe to do so.

"Just make sure you're pointing him in the same direction as when he started, and take him off the road two metres," she said.

Henson added that people should move the turtle quickly, rather than picking it up and posing for a photo.

This Blanding's turtle was struck by a car, and its shell is badly cracked. (Jade Groom-Pike)

With files from Marina von Stackelberg