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Ontario turtles targeted by poachers

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Cheryl Santa Maria
Digital Reporter

Monday, July 14, 2014, 5:16 PM - A recent article by The Canadian Press has thrust Ontario's turtles into the spotlight -- and for all the wrong reasons.

According to the news agency, southern Ontario turtle populations are at risk due to poachers who are taking the animals and selling them on the black market.

While researchers say there are no statistics to pinpoint how many turtles have been snatched from their habitat, the Canadian Press says there is "overwhelming evidence" to suggest that the turtles are being used by some groups to make soup while others are being sold as pets.

Three of the species favoured by poachers -- the spotted, wood and blanding's turtles -- are considered to be at-risk.

The location of protected turtle habitats are not made public in an effort to deter poaching. This illegal activity that can result in stiff fines and significant jail time.

Yet despite the strict government sanctions, pet-trade poaching continues to be a growing concern with devastating ecological impacts.

Spotted turtles, for example, have a low reproductive potential, combined with longevity, according to the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC).

RELATED: Learn more about the Blanding's turtle

"Although some populations are in protected areas, they may have a low probability of persistence, especially because small numbers and isolation reduce population viability. The low frequency of juveniles in most studied populations suggests these populations are composed largely of remnant, aged cohorts with low reproductive success. Another clear threat is from collection for the pet trade. There is no rescue effect," COSEWIC says.

"The illegal harvest of turtles from the wild is not a new phenomenon, but it has undergone significant growth recently due to the huge popularity in Canada and North America of keeping reptiles as pets," Mike Rutter, an intelligence investigative specialist with the Ministry of Natural Resources, told the Haliburton Echo in 2011.

"Due to the long life and slow reproduction of wild turtles, organized poachers can decimate a local population of turtles very quickly," he told the Echo. "In the case of any of Ontario's endangered turtles poaching event has the potential to virtually eliminate an area's entire population."

Courtesy: UFSWS/Flickr

Courtesy: UFSWS/Flickr

What you can do to help

  • Help turtles cross the road. If you see a turtle on a busy roadway, move it to the other side, in the direction the turtle is headed, provided it is safe to do so. Road collisions are another serious threat facing Ontario's turtles.
  • If you spot turtles in their natural habitat, do not disturb them.
  • Preserve plant, insect, reptile and amphibian species by maintaining wetlands on your property.
  • When choosing a pet, refuse to buy endangered or threatened turtle species, or turtles that have been poached from the wild.

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