TORONTO, ON, Tuesday, June 23, 2020: Fifty-seven baby Blanding’s turtles got a head start in the Greater Toronto Area’s (GTA) Rouge National Urban Park today thanks to a collaborative head-start program co-led by Parks Canada and the Toronto Zoo. Present for this momentous occasion were Omar Mcdadi, Field Unit Superintendent, Rouge National Urban Park, Dolf DeJong, CEO, Toronto Zoo, Jeff Yurek, Ontario Minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks, Jean Yip, Member of Parliament for Scarborough-Agincourt and John MacKenzie, CEO, Toronto and Region Conservation Authority.

This was the seventh year that Blanding’s turtles – federally-listed as endangered and provincially-listed as a threatened species – have been reintroduced into the park. These Blanding’s turtles were rescued as eggs from nests vulnerable to predation in a stable, source population in central Ontario and have been raised in a protected environment at the Zoo for two years. Thanks to this initiative, so far, almost 400 of these turtles have been restored to the Rouge.

Other program partners include: Mississaugas of New Credit First Nation, Magnetawan First Nation, the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA), the Ontario Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks (MECP), and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF).

In June 2014, this group of partners began reintroducing juvenile Blanding’s turtles in the Rouge, and to date, has reintroduced 396 head-start and hatchling 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 seven adult Blanding’s turtles remaining.

“All eight turtle species in Ontario are federally listed as at risk and need our help,” said Dolf DeJong, CEO, Toronto Zoo. “Blanding’s turtles are a flagship species representing a group of animals facing a variety of threats right here in our own backyard. Your Toronto Zoo is proud to be joining forces with these important community partners in educating the public on their plight in the wild and in doing everything we can to mitigate the threats they face and halt declining populations.”

“Parks Canada is committed to working with its partners to protect species at risk like the Blanding’s Turtle in Rouge National Urban Park,” said Omar Mcdadi, Field Unit Superintendent, Rouge National Urban Park. “Amphibians and reptiles, including Blanding’s Turtles, are great indicator species. These 57 turtles will be monitored for years to come, helping to track the health of wetlands in the park. This informs restoration projects throughout the Rouge to ensure we are preserving nature in Canada’s first national urban park for future generations.”

Canada’s first national urban park spans more than 79 km2 in the GTA, making it one of North America’s largest protected areas in an urban setting. The Blanding’s Turtle Head-Start Conservation Program in Rouge National Urban Park is part of a significant partnership to help recover this at-risk species.

This year’s Blanding’s turtle release also takes place in close proximity to National Indigenous Peoples Day on June 21. On this day, we celebrate the heritage, cultures and achievements of Indigenous Peoples in Canada. Turtles appear in many traditional teachings and stories including How the turtle got its shell and The Turtle with the Sun under its Chin. The turtle also plays an essential role in the Haudenosaunee Creation Story, as it is believed that the Earth was formed on a turtles back. Referred to as ‘the turtle with the sun under its chin,’ the Blanding’s turtle is an important ambassador and teacher of Indigenous knowledge and we are proud to help re-introduce them into Rouge National Urban Park.

The 57 Blanding’s turtles that were released into the Rouge were also given an extra-special distinction acknowledging the current COVID-19 pandemic and the amazing efforts of our frontline workers and those individuals who lost their lives to this virus. As a thank you for their ongoing commitment and sacrifices during this unprecedented time, Toronto Zoo and Parks Canada worked alongside the Scarborough Health Network to name 53 turtles after an important member of their frontline team. The Toronto Zoo named the remaining turtles after Dr. Eileen de Villa Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health, Chief Matthew Pegg who Chairs the City of Toronto’s Emergency Operations Centre and Mayor John Tory. In addition, one of the turtles was named after Stanley “Stan” Muise who died from COVID-19 in May. This turtle represents all of those individuals whose lives were cut short by this virus.

Scarborough Health Network Team Members:

Ajith Varghese,
Manager, Spiritual Care
Ann Sideris
Director, Workplace Health and Safety
Babi Kattakayathil
Executive Assistant
Christina Gagnon
Registered Nurse
Christina Hawkins
Social Worker
Cristina Badlis
David Graham
Executive Vice President & Chief Administrative Officer
Dr. Abdel Belhaj
Medical Director, Infection Prevention and Control
Dr. Albert Lauwers
Executive Vice President Medical and Clinical Programs
Dr. Dick Zoutman
Chief of Staff
Dr. Elaine Yeung
Corporate Chief of Medicine
Dr. Liz Hartley
Dr. Reena Lovinsky
Medical Director, Infection Prevention and Control
Dr. Robert Ting
Dr. Norm Chu
Chief and Medical Director of Emergency Services
Dru Ann Skeates
Manager, Emergency Care
Elyse Hosein
Emergency Preparedness Specialist
Fred Go
Director, Surgery
Glyn Boatswain
Director, Women’s and Children’s Health
Heidi McDowell
Rehab Assistant
Jaclyn Smoskowitz
Social Worker
Katrina Studeny
Registered Practical Nurse
Leigh Duncan
Executive Director, Communications and Public Affairs
Lisa Cipriano
Communications Lead
Linda Calhoun
Vice President & Chief Professional Practice Executive
Liora Krinsky
Registered Nurse
Liz Buller
President and CEO
Lorie Sheridan
Registered Nurse
Marina Zajakovski
Registered Nurse
Meredith DePaulsen
Manager, Patient Care
Michele James
Vice President, People and Transformation
Minette MacNeil
Interprofessional Practice and Allied Health
Nick Dimovski
Director, Logistics and Supply Chain
Nick Parsons
Registered Nurse
Nicholas Smith
Manager, Marketing and Communications
Nisa Karan
Manager Workplace Health & Safety
Penny Lalopoulos Karafile
Director Support Services
Petra Sheldrake
Director, Laboratory Services
Philippa Dawood
Wellness Coordinator
Rebecca Harvey
Executive Vice President Clinical Programs
Renee Blomme
Director, Privacy and Risk Management
Rincy Pulickal
Registered Practical Nurse
Sharah Haque
Registered Nurse
Shelley Dorazio
Pharmacy Director
Stephen Casey
Manager, Birchmount Emergency Department
Tabatha Bowers
Nurse Practitioner
Tanisha Donaldson
Clerical Information Management Supervisor
Thiru Appasamy
Operations Lead for the Cardiovascular and Stroke Program
Trixie Williams
Director, Oncology & Cardiovascular
Tyler Crocker
Director, Plant & Facilities Operations
Varma Maharaj
General Manager, Support Services
Vydia Nankoosingh
Manager, Infection Prevention Control
Zahir Hirji
Manager, Risk & Privacy

These Blanding’s turtles were rescued as eggs from non-viable nests in Ontario and have been raised in a protected environment at the Zoo for two years. Thanks to this initiative, so far, almost 400 of these turtles have been restored to the Rouge. 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 and Laurentian University are assisting with long term monitoring of the released turtles. Parks Canada, TRCA, MNRF, 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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