Toronto Zoo Collaborates with Local Partners to Continue Blanding's Turtle Conservation Efforts

TORONTO, ON, Thursday, November 14, 2019: The Toronto Zoo is a leader in conservation and participates in important breeding programs of many local species. The Zoo’s Adopt-A-Pond Wetland Conservation Program leads a head-start initiative that is recovering a local population of Blanding’s turtles, a threatened species in Ontario. Blanding’s turtles are rescued as eggs from non-viable nests and stable source populations in Ontario and are 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, foxes, and herons. The University of Toronto Scarborough Campus has joined this head-starting project and is assisting with long term monitoring of the released turtles. Our project partners including Parks Canada, the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF), Ontario Ministry of Environment Conservation and Parks (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 the Rouge National Urban Park, and their persistence in Ontario.

In 2019 the Zoo faced logistic challenges in securing eggs to head start and relied on local partner organizations to rescue and incubate eggs. These partners include the Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre, Toronto Wildlife Centre and Scales Nature Park. These partners were able to provide 51 hatchlings that were recovered from gravid adult female Blanding’s turtles that were struck by vehicles, as well as eggs rescued from nest sites that were precariously located near roads.

Our collaboration with the local partners was made possible through the support of MECP and MNRF to ensure all programs were achieving their necessary goals. The AAP team worked diligently to ensure all of the government regulations were met to standard and the transfers would be successful. Once everything was approved, the hatchlings were transported from the partner organizations to the Zoo, which required a number of trips from various locations to bring them all to Scarborough.

The hatchlings will be cared for at the Toronto Zoo’s Blanding’s turtle exhibit in the America’s Pavilion, where they will have minimal contact with Wildlife Care staff to ensure they will remain wary of people and natural predators in the wild. These baby turtles will be released into Rouge Urban National Park in 2021. If it was not for the partnerships with the Government of Ontario and local conservation centres, the Toronto Zoo would be a year behind their goal of achieving a sustainable populations of the Blanding’s Turtles in Rouge Urban National Park.

This past June was 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 – were released in the Rouge Urban National 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.

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