Threatened Blanding’s Turtles Released In Rouge National Urban Park

TORONTO, ON. June 22, 2021 – A collaborative initiative co-led by Parks Canada and the Toronto Zoo, added 48 juvenile Blanding’s turtles to Rouge National Urban Park today as part of recovery efforts to support this threatened species in the Greater Toronto Area.

This release also commemorates National Indigenous Peoples Day on June 21 which acknowledges the heritage, cultures and achievements of Indigenous peoples in Canada. Turtles appear in many traditional teachings and Creation stories. Parks Canada and the Toronto Zoo are proud to help reintroduce “the turtle with the sun under its chin,” into Rouge National Urban Park.

Now in its eighth year of releases, the Blanding’s Turtle Head-Start Conservation Program has helped bring this threatened local species back from the brink of local extirpation. Over 500 turtles have been released into Rouge National Urban Park in an effort to save the species, including more than 300 juveniles, which have been given a “head-start” in life through this program since June 2014. When reintroduction efforts began in 2012, there were fewer than 10 individual Blanding’s turtles remaining in the Rouge Valley.

Program partners include: City of Toronto, Magnetawan First Nation, the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA), Georgian Bay Biosphere, the Ontario Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks (MECP), and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF), the Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre, Toronto Wildlife Centre, and Scales Nature Park. 

The Blanding’s Turtle Head-Start Conservation Program is part of the Toronto Zoo’s Adopt-A-Pond Wetland Conservation Program, a comprehensive approach to species recovery, which also includes habitat creation, academic research, stewardship initiatives, and outreach and education programs to save this species. The program reintroduces this threatened species into Rouge National Urban Park’s natural and restored wetlands. Each year, turtle eggs are collected under permit from stable source populations in Ontario. The eggs are brought under the care of the Toronto Zoo where they are incubated, hatched and raised for two years, until they’re the size of a four or five-year old wild turtle. At this point, their shells are large enough to evade most predators such as raccoons, skunks, foxes, coyotes and crows, giving them a head-start in life!

“My perspective on helping wildlife and wild spaces is simple – conservation is a team sport – and we need more players,” says Dolf DeJong, CEO, Toronto Zoo. “The Blanding’s Turtle Head-Start Conservation Program is the epitome of positioning conservation as a team sport in order to make a difference and save species. From our perspective, this important species recovery program is a fine example of community collaborations in action to connect people, animals and conservation science to fight extinction,” he added.

“Protecting this threatened species and its habitats in Rouge National Urban Park benefits other native turtles, amphibians, fish, birds, and mammals that use the same wetland homes,” says Ron Hallman, CEO, Parks Canada. “Partnering with the Toronto Zoo and the University of Toronto-Scarborough to track this year’s cohort of turtles, as well as turtles from previous years, is helping Parks Canada to monitor turtle survival and wetland health in the park. We’re proud that our joint efforts are helping to restore healthy, resilient ecosystems and contributing to the recovery of species at risk here in Canada’s first national urban park for the benefit of current and future generations.”

The Blanding’s turtle, a long-lived species with a life span of up to 80+ years, is listed as a threatened species provincially, nationally and globally. Populations are highly sensitive to human-induced threats such as habitat loss and fragmentation caused by urban development and drainage of wetlands for agriculture, road mortality, and increased levels of predation due to predators.

To keep track of the turtles’ movement and survival, staff from the Toronto Zoo partner with research scientists from the University of Toronto-Scarborough and Laurentian University to attach tiny radio transmitters to each of their shells. The information gained from monitoring these turtles helps to improve understanding of survival and habitat use, and provides critical information for park managers to create additional suitable wetland areas where aquatic animals can thrive. Long-term turtle habitat improvement projects include wetland restoration, the creation of nesting habitats, and the construction of road way eco-passages that will promote this species’ long-term survival and sustainability in the Rouge Valley.

The 48 Blanding’s turtles released into Rouge National Urban Park were named by members of the Rouge National Urban Park First Nations Advisory Circle, the recipients of this year’s Scarborough Hero Award in recognition of those who have gone above and beyond to serve the local community in very substantive and impactful ways, and the Toronto Zoo Wildlife Conservancy’s Adopt An Animal Program.  A Blanding’s turtle was also named to honour Dr. Andrew Lentini’s 35-year career with the Toronto Zoo, he will be retiring from his position as Senior Director of Conservation and Wildlife at the end of June.

To view the full article visit: https://www.torontozoo.com/mediaroom/press2021?pg=20210622a

To View Photos and Video footage of the release visit: https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/12kq5VoiEQhPP2C4VqQgluaGTZ7b1A-Ip

For more about Blanding’s turtles in Rouge National Urban Park, please visit: https://www.pc.gc.ca/en/pn-np/on/rouge/nature/conservation/tortuesmouchetees-blandingsturtles 

For more information about Toronto Zoo’s Blanding’s Turtle Head-Start Conservation Program, please visit: https://www.torontozoo.comm/AdoptAPond/

Toronto Zoo Media Contact:

Amanda Chambers
Supervisor of Strategic Communications
achambers@torontozoo.ca

Parks Canada, Government of Canada Media Contact:

Mark Samcoe
Acting Public Relations and Communications Officer, Rouge National Urban Park
mark.samcoe@canada.ca / Tel.: 647-232-6527

Agent par intérim, relations publiques et communications, Parc urbain national de la Rouge
Parcs Canada, Gouvernement du Canada
mark.samcoe@canada.ca / Tél.: 647-232-6527

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