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Second Wave of Endangered Blanding’s Turtles to be Released

August 17, 2023

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Second Wave of Endangered Blanding’s Turtles to be Released at Royal Botanical Gardens

In August 2023, RBG’s Species-at-Risk (SAR) team released to the RBG marsh areas 22 head-started endangered Blanding’s Turtle juveniles. This is year two of releases with an unprecedented-at-RBG number of healthy young turtles set free to the healthiest habitat areas. Head started turtles are hatchling turtles that have completed a two-year Head-start program at the licensed and permitted head-start program at Scales Nature Park, part of the Georgian Bay Turtle Hospital in Orillia.

Recognizable by their more domed helmet-shaped shell and bright yellow chin and throat, Blanding’s Turtles are provincially listed as threatened and federally listed as endangered, and locally are our rarest turtle species with a total regional population of less than 30 adults. This two-year program gives the hatchlings the opportunity to safely grow from the size of a loonie to what could otherwise take four to five years in the wild, before being returned to RBG’s wetlands at a size which makes them less vulnerable to most predators. These hatchlings came from three onsite nests recovered by RBG’s Species at Risk team and intrepid RBG Volunteers in 2021 and is the second group of head-started Blanding’s Turtle to be introduced. This follows the 2022’s release and the inaugural return of the first group of head-started Blanding’s Turtles. The 2021 nests were collected from three of RBG’s known females – named Seneca, Lola, and Carmen.

It won’t be clear if these hatchlings are male or female until they reach a mature age (roughly 17 to 20 years old). There is currently only one known adult female Blanding’s Turtle in the Cootes Paradise area, named Seneca, leading to insufficient recruitment of new individuals to the population. Fun fact: the sex of a Blanding’s Turtle hatchling is determined by the nest’s incubation temperature, meaning if the Species at Risk team are able to retrieve eggs soon after laying, they can not only ensure predators don’t get to the nest – they can also ensure an even male-female sex ratio. This provides yet another reason tracking and reporting nesting Blanding’s Turtles is so important.

With the help of Toronto Zoo biologists, all the juveniles will have pit-tag IDs implanted in them to aid in future identification; they have also been notched to help visually differentiate between individuals and outfitted with radio transmitters to help monitor their movements and survival rates. These young turtles are released at healthy habitat areas of within the RBG marsh areas, and will confront additional challenges facing native turtles — shrinking habitat, road mortality, inflated predator numbers, invasive species, poaching, pollution, persecution, and climate change.

The RBG Species at Risk team is only one part of the group working towards healthier habitat for these and other Species at Risk at RBG; the Natural Lands department’s Aquatic, Terrestrial, and Biotech’s team, and the City of Hamilton Water Department. We are also supported by a fantastic group of RBG volunteers, RBG staff from the Horticultural, I.T., management and administration team, and multiple partner organizations including Conservation Halton, Dundas Turtle Watch, Hamilton Conservation Authority, and Scales Nature Park, to name a few.

“Our team is grateful for financial support from many RBG donors and foundations enabling us to dramatically increase the chances of survival for these turtles,” said Tys Theysmeyer, Head of Natural Lands at RBG. “We’ve worked hard to restore viable habitat areas in the marsh, but we rely on continued efforts from the community to restore inflowing water quality, as well as mitigate turtle road mortality with roadside wildlife barriers and underpasses around Cootes Paradise.”

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For more information contact: Tory Crowder Jumpstart Communications, torycrowder@jumpstartcommunications.ca 416-998-9702