Recent Media Coverage

Turtle carnage on area roads

by Rob O'Flanagan

Guelph Mercury

July 25, 2013

What did the travelling salesman find littering the roadways around Guelph? This is not a joke.

David Faragher is a seed salesman who travels throughout Ontario and extensively in the Guelph area. He has recently been alarmed by the number of dead turtles crushed, cracked and disemboweled along all highways and secondary roads in the area.

"You only have to drive around for awhile and you will see quite a lot of them," he said.

On a recent country trip in the vicinity of Wellington Road 32, Faragher counted 29 dead turtles big ones and small ones. He believes motorists are running them over out of indifference or ignorance. And it appears some drivers kill them intentionally, according to those familiar with the threats turtles face.

Ontario has eight turtle species and seven are classified as endangered or threatened. Conservationists warn the province will lose some of those species within a generation unless concerted efforts are made to save them.

There are at least three turtle species in the Guelph area Blanding's, painted, and common snapping. Two other species, eastern spiny softshell and northern map, are found in a zone just south of Guelph.

Death on roadways is one of the leading causes of turtle mortality, experts say, and one of the main factors contributing to their ever-declining numbers. Faragher wishes more municipalities would put up turtle-crossing signs to alert drivers.

"All the way around Guelph we have a lot of bodies of water, and it doesn't seem that anyone slows down for the turtles when they cross the roads and all you see are pancakes all over the place," said Faragher. "It just makes me feel that none of us really care about an animal that can't go very quick."

Faragher will stop to help turtles cross roads when it is safe to do so, knowing they are slow and easily injured or killed by vehicles. An official with the 30,000 member conservation organization Ontario Nature said helping turtles cross roads is one of the best things we can do to save their lives so long as we take them in the original direction in which they were heading.

Catherine Jimena is an assistant with Ontario Nature's Ontario Reptile and Amphibian Atlas project. She said Ontario's extensive network of roadways cuts through turtle habitat everywhere, making it necessary for turtles to cross roads to get to breeding grounds. Many turtles lay their eggs on the gravel shoulder of those roads, which puts them in harm's way.

"Road mortality is certainly one of the reasons the numbers are declining," she said. "It is a big contributor to population loss. And there is really no area where they are not in contact with roads."

Jimena encourages all Ontarians to contact Ontario Nature whenever and wherever they make turtle sightings. The Ontario Reptile and Amphibian Atlas is a way of mapping the province's turtle population. Visit www.ontarionature.org to learn more.

Jim Bogart is professor emeritus of integrative biology at the University of Guelph.

"The problem is the turtles have to get out of the water to nest," he said, adding the problem of road mortality is usually at its peak in April and May when the females are nesting. "This time of the year the males are sometimes moving around to different populations."

He called road mortality "one of the biggest threats we have for turtles."

"It's pretty serious, and we increase the number of roads in the area and they are pretty close to a lot of areas where these turtles live," he added. "And some people actually go out of their way to hit the turtles, which is kind of sad."

A 2005 study in Ontario and another in South Carolina in 2012 found that some drivers intentionally hit turtles and snakes. In both studies, rubber turtles and snakes, along with inanimate objects like paper cups or grease markers were placed along the centre lines of highways. Unlike the rubber turtles and snakes, the inanimate objects were rarely hit.

"I just want to bring to people's attention that we should be taking a bit more care with turtles," Faragher added.

He wants to encourage area motorists to be aware there are turtles on our roads, take steps to avoid hitting them, and help them cross when possible.

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