Windsor

Spiny softshell turtle put on endangered species list

Continuing decline of the turtle in both Ontario and Quebec is blamed primarily on the loss of natural nesting grounds, invasive plants and poaching.

Upper Thames River Conservation Authority has spent years replenishing spiny softshell turtle populations

Despite being placed on the endangered species list, the spiny softshell turtle has been thriving in the London area thanks to work by the Upper Thames River Conservation Authority.

The spiny softshell turtle has been put on the country's endangered species list, despite extensive efforts in places like London to keep the population growing.

The continuing decline of the turtle in both Ontario and Quebec is blamed primarily on the loss of natural nesting grounds, invasive plants and poaching.

Conservation officials have worked diligently to protect the spiny softshell turtle in the Upper Thames River, replenishing stocks regularly over the past few years.

Despite being placed on the endangered species list, the spiny softshell turtle has been thriving in the London area thanks to work by the Upper Thames River Conservation Authority.

But Gillingwater told CBC News poachers are a significant reason for the decline of the turtles, which can fetch as much as $200 on websites like Kijiji. 

"These eggs may be used potentially for the illegal pet trade, food trade or medicinal trade," he said. "Young animals and the adults are also taken."

Widespread struggles

Spiny softshell turtle populations struggle even more in other parts of the country, which is what prompted the Committee On the Status of Endangered Wildlife In Canada to upgrade the turtle from threatened to endangered.

Officials with the Upper Thames Conservation Authority want to share their knowledge with other regions, where efforts have not been so successful, explained Scott Gillingwater, species at risk biologist.

"We continue to work hard to protect and recover this species," he said. "Since our recovery efforts have resulted in proven success in Canada, we can share this model for other sites where this turtle has active populations."

Turtle survival rates are low, even with the conservation strategies. For every 100 turtles placed into the river area, maybe one will survive. Sometimes, the rate can be as low as one in every 1,000.

Turtle demand

Gillingwater worries the value for the turtles might climb now there is an endangered species designation.

"There's been a number of cases where animals have been confiscated from people who have had them in captivity as pets, as well has people that have had them in freezers for food," he said.

The demand for the turtles has grown so large that organized crime groups go to great lengths to sell them.

"There are people that have very strongly-held traditional interest in turtles," Gillingwater said. "There are some pretty serious issues with organized crime that try to make money off these animals to get [them] to people that do have those traditional values."

With files from Jessica Pope

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