Welcome Niigaanii: Cootes Paradise’s Newest Blandings Turtle
On Friday August 12, RBG’s intrepid turtle team released Niigaanii, an endangered Blanding’s turtle, marking the inaugural return of the first group of Blanding’s sent to a head-start rehabilitation program at Scales Nature Park.
Since 2020, hatchlings of this endangered species recovered by RBG’s Species at Risk team were held at a head start program licensed at Scales Nature Park, part of the Georgian Bay Turtle Hospital in Orillia.
Recognized by their bright yellow throat, Blanding’s turtles are the most threatened turtle species found in the Hamilton-Burlington region. The two-year program gives the hatchlings time to grow in a safe environment before being returned to RBG’s wetlands, where their bigger size will hopefully ward off predators. The 2020 cohort is first Blanding’s turtle to be introduced to Cootes Paradise since 2015.
In 2020, two Blanding’s turtle hatchlings were found by canoers in Cootes Paradise and brought to Scales Nature park for care. The surviving turtle was named Niigaanii, a non-gendered Ojibwe word that translates to ‘she or he goes forward.’ It won’t be clear if Niigaanii is a male or female until they reach a mature age (around 17 to 20 years old). There is only one confirmed female Blanding’s turtle currently nesting in the Cootes Paradise area, named Seneca, leading to the lack of hatchlings in the marsh.
Fun fact: the sex of a turtle hatching is actually determined due to the temperatures of the nest during incubation, meaning if biologists are able to retrieve eggs soon after laying, they can determine the sex themselves! This provides yet another reason tracking and reporting nesting female turtles is so important.
Niigaanii’s Return to Cootes Paradise
Regulations state that hatchlings must be returned to the nearest body of water from where their nest was recovered. Before release, Niigaanii was outfitted with a radio transmitter to help monitor their movements and in the future, find potential nesting sites.
The specific release location of Niigaanii was kept a secret; after some interviews and photo-ops with local press, Cootes Paradise’s newest resident was whisked away in a canoe by RBG staff to a more protected location. The importance of the “paddle off” also highlights the additional challenges facing native turtles — in addition to shrinking habitats and predators, these rare species are also direct victims of poaching and persecution.
Marsh Restoration and Support
“Our team is grateful for financial support from RBG donors and the K.M Hunter Charitable Foundation who’ve enabled 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 continue to restore inflowing water quality, as well as mitigate road crossings deaths with wildlife barriers and underpasses for the roads around the perimeter of Cootes Paradise.”
Learn more about RBG’s turtle conservation program and how you can help at rbg.ca/turtles