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Expert reminds Manitobans to take care of the turtles this World Turtle Day

An expert is reminding Manitobans to take care of their shelled, reptilian friends this World Turtle Day.

James Paterson, a research scientist with Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC), said around this time of year, female turtles make a migration to lay eggs, so commuters may soon be seeing the critters crossing roads.

“The two biggest threats to turtles are the loss of habitat, especially wetland habitat, and then the threat to turtles from cars on roads,” he said.

“If you encounter a turtle on the road, if it’s safe to do so you can pull aside on the road, get out, and then you can help move the turtle across the road. We recommend always moving the turtle in the same direction that it’s travelling,” he said.

Though it may look like the turtle is heading somewhere it shouldn’t, like away from water, Paterson said not to fret.

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“They might be moving into a forest or into a field to find a nice sunny place to lay their eggs. The turtle knows best,” he said.

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DUC said that some turtles also make their nests on roadside gravel, and to be cautious of nesting places on streets.

Paterson added with all eight of Canada’s native freshwater turtle species listed as at risk, there is no better time to play it safe.

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“Turtle populations are really vulnerable — especially those nesting females — to being killed because their whole population is designed around living in the slow lane,” he said, not just referring to curbside nesting.

“Female turtles take a long time until they’re old enough to lay eggs. So, for example, a snapping turtle might not start laying eggs until it’s more than 15 years old. And then, for the population to sustain itself, they rely on then living for a very long time and laying eggs every year.

“So if we lose those females to being hit by cars, those populations are going to decline really quickly,” the scientist said.

Another way to keep turtles safe is by ensuring invasive species are kept out of waterbodies by regularly cleaning watercraft, and not dumping aquariums into nature.

“The most common non-native turtle that you might see,” Paterson said, “would be the red eared slider. This is the most common pet turtle.”

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He said, “Often people buy them when they’re small, then the turtle starts getting larger and they don’t want to take care of them for the next 40 years, and they might release them into a local pond where, especially in southern Canada, they can survive our winter sometimes.”

However, turtles are not nearly destructive as other invasive species, Paterson said, because of how slow they move, and how little they eat.

“They’re not as much a threat to our native species as those other threats of habitat loss and road mortality,” he said.

Click to play video: 'Rarely seen turtle rescued off Vancouver Island'

Rarely seen turtle rescued off Vancouver Island

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