Blanding's Turtles Released in Rouge National Urban Park

TORONTO, ON, Friday, June 21, 2019: Today the Toronto Zoo, Parks Canada, the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA), Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks (MECP), Rod Phillips, Ontario Minister of Finance, and Magnetawan First Nation reintroduced 48 baby Blanding's turtles to a wetland found in Rouge National Urban Park. Canada’s first national urban park spans more than 79 km2 in the Greater Toronto Area, making it one of North America’s largest protected areas in an urban setting. The Blanding’s Turtle Head-Start Conservation Programme is part of a significant partnership between Toronto Zoo, Parks Canada, the TRCA, and the MECP to help recover this globally Endangered species.

This will be the sixth year Blanding’s turtles – listed as Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and a provincially and nationally Threatened species – will be released in the park. In June 2014, the same group of partners began reintroducing baby Blanding’s turtles in the Rouge, and to date, has reintroduced 213 juvenile Blanding’s turtles in an effort to save the species. The Blanding’s turtle is a long-lived species, with a life span of up to 80 years. This species has inhabited the Rouge Valley for thousands of years, though prior to 2014, its future was uncertain with as few as six adult Blanding’s turtles remaining.

“We are pleased to continue to support the Toronto Zoo in its multi-year efforts to protect the endangered Blanding’s turtle,” said Rod Phillips, Ontario Minister of Finance. “Conservation of Ontario’s rich biodiversity is a shared responsibility, and a key action in our Made-in-Ontario Environment Plan. That’s why we committed $4.5M to the Species at Risk Stewardship Program to support people and organizations across Ontario to implement on-the-ground activities that benefit species like the Blanding’s turtle and its habitat.”

“Seven of eight turtle species in Ontario are at risk and need our help,” said Dr. Andrew Lentini, Senior Director of Wildlife and Science, Toronto Zoo. “Blanding’s turtles are a flagship species representing a group of animals facing a variety of threats and the Toronto Zoo is proud to be partnering with these important community partners in the reintroduction of this Endangered Canadian species.”

The Blanding’s turtle release also falls on National Indigenous Peoples Day. On this day, we celebrate the heritage, cultures and achievements of Indigenous peoples in Canada. Turtles appear in many traditional stories including “How the turtle got its shell” and “How the Blanding’s turtle got its yellow chin”. The turtle also plays an essential role in the Creation story, as the Earth is formed on its back. Referred to as ‘the turtle with the sun under its chin,’ the Blanding’s turtle is significant to First Nations and we are proud to help re-introduce them into Rouge National Urban Park on this day.

“Canada is doubling the amount of nature protected in Canada’s lands and oceans. Protecting nature helps mitigate the impacts of climate change, restore our coasts, and save our lakes, forests and animals,” said Catherine McKenna, Minister of the Environment and Climate Change, and Minister responsible for Parks Canada. “By strengthening protections at Rouge National Urban Park, close to 50 baby Blanding’s turtles are heading back home into the Rouge. This is a significant step in conserving and restoring turtles to wetlands in Canada’s first national urban park.”

These Blanding’s turtles were rescued as eggs from non-viable nests in a stable source population in southern Ontario and have been raised in a protected environment at the Toronto Zoo for two years. Giving these turtles a ‘head-start’ in life, the Zoo has raised them past their most vulnerable stages where they would otherwise have faced an increased chance of predation from animals like raccoons. The University of Toronto Scarborough is assisting with long term monitoring of the released turtles. Parks Canada, the TRCA, the MECP, 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 species’ survival in Rouge National Urban Park.

 

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