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Heads up motorists! Turtles are (slowly) on the move

Now is prime time for turtles to be crossing area roads

It’s spring and turtles are on the move.

But sometimes a road or a highway can stand between them and their destination.

Speeding traffic and slow-moving turtles are a dangerous mix and many turtles are severely injured or killed on roads every year.

The Guelph Humane Society would like to remind motorists to keep an eye out for the reptiles as they approach egg-laying season.

“Starting now, males are busy finding mates and then in June, females are trying to find nesting areas and they will often lay their eggs in sandy gravel shoulders along the roads,” said Megan Swan, an animal protection officer with the Guelph Humane Society.

“We are always concerned about turtles being hit by vehicles this time of year.”

Popular turtle crossing areas in Guelph are found along Kortright Road, Downey Road, Grange Road, Niska Road, Highway 124 by Guelph Lake, Watson Parkway North and York Road.

“But they can be found at any location near waterways,” says Sarah Dykeman, an animal care attendant with the Guelph Humane Society.

“We just want to remind people that if they see a turtle to report it. If they’ve been hit by a vehicle, they can be in trauma from an injury and this can cause a very slow death. Call us if you see a turtle.”

Even if their shells are crushed, turtles can remain alive for days or even weeks and in agonizing pain because they have such slow metabolisms.

According to the Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre (OTCC) in Selwyn Ontario, turtles may appear dead but unexpectedly they can still be alive. Turtles are ectothermic which means that the environment influences their body temperature. They can hold their breath and slow their heart rate which in turn makes them look dead, when they’re not.

“Because of their hard shell, they have a good chance of healing, but if left, they will die,” says Dr. Sue Carstairs, executive medical director and head veterinarian at the centre.

“We receive lots of calls about turtle nests. The public is concerned and that’s so great.”

The OTCC is a registered charity whose goal is to protect and conserve Ontario’s native turtles and the habitat in which they live. This is run through donations which help to operate the turtle hospital, support research and aid in running a comprehensive education and outreach program.

This spring, several species will travel many kilometres, putting themselves at risk.

“They move around a lot because their habitat may change as well as water levels so they will look for another place to nest,” Carstairs says.

Motorists who spot a turtle may contact the Guelph Humane Society who are in partnership with the OTCC.

The society provides the necessary care and treatment until the turtle is healed or is transported to the centre to receive additional medical treatment and any required rehabilitation.

According to Carstairs, turtles are cold-blooded so they prefer the climate in southern Ontario.

Snapping and painted turtles are more prevalent in the Guelph area.

There are eight native species of turtles in Ontario, all of which are determined to be at risk or endangered. Road mortality is second to habitat loss which is the number one contributing factor in declining populations.

The life cycle of a turtle makes them very vulnerable to the loss of even a small number of adults in a population which is why helping to ensure safe passage of turtles crossing the road is so important.

“It’s especially important because if a turtle has died and found along the roadway, their eggs can still be collected, incubated and hatched,” says Carstairs.

“We saved over 1,000 injured turtles last year and over 4,000 eggs were incubated.”

Helping a turtle cross the road isn’t simply about being a good Samaritan as much as it is about preserving native turtle species.

“Turtles are important and vital to the health of our wetlands. They are the largest biomass in there. When you look at our world, Canada has the largest wetland areas and 75 per cent of those have been depleted. By protecting our turtles, we are also protecting our wetlands,” Carstairs says.

“If we can save a year, that impacts a whole population. We are buying time to save the bigger problem.”

The education programs at the centre offer thousands of people each year the opportunity to learn about turtles.

“And that probably saves more lives,” Carstairs says. “People say they will now take action They see the bigger picture and they want to help. It’s rewarding to see the bigger impact and not just an individual one. And that’s what feels really good.”

For Dave Beaton, Guelph’s supervisor for trails and natural area stewardship, it’s promising to see residents coming up with their own makeshift ideas in helping protect turtles in Guelph.

“Just recently, Guelph Collegiate High School built turtle nest protectors for people to put over the nests to stop predators from digging them up, keep people from stepping on the nests and also from vandalising them,” Beaton said.

Each protector has a gap which allows turtles to escape once hatched.

“This is a way for the community to help protect a natural piece of our heritage while protecting the species. If folks are interested, with the support of Guelph Collegiate, we are offering these to residents,” Beaton said.

For anyone interested in helping protect a known nesting area or if they see a nest that is vulnerable, they can contact: [email protected]

The City of Guelph has also begun installing wildlife corridors under roads to allow for turtles to cross safely.

“These were installed in the Eastview area,” Beaton says. “It’s an innovative approach from our environmental planners.”

And for all motorists who happen to see a turtle on the road, they are encouraged to stop and lend a hand, if safe to do so.

A turtle should be moved in the direction in which they are headed. For species other than snapping turtles, they can be picked up with two hands on either side of the shell and moved across the road.

If confronted with a snapping turtle, extra caution is needed. They should never be approached from the front or side of their shell. If approached from behind, they can slide right onto a car mat or shovel and then moved safely across the road.

In cases of injured or dead turtles, contact the Guelph Humane Society as soon as possible.

For more information, visit the Guelph Humane Society at or the Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre at