Fifty-seven baby Blanding’s turtles got a head start in the Greater Toronto Area’s (GTA) Rouge National Urban Park today thanks to a collaborative head-start program co-led by Parks Canada and the Toronto Zoo.
Present for this momentous occasion were Omar Mcdadi, Field Unit Superintendent, Rouge National Urban Park, Dolf DeJong, CEO, Toronto Zoo, Jeff Yurek, Ontario Minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks, Jean Yip, Member of Parliament for Scarborough-Agincourt and John MacKenzie, CEO, Toronto and Region Conservation Authority.
This was the seventh year that Blanding’s turtles – federally-listed as endangered and provincially-listed as a threatened species – have been reintroduced into the park. These Blanding’s turtles were rescued as eggs from nests vulnerable to predation in a stable, source population in central Ontario and have been raised in a protected environment at the Zoo for two years. Thanks to this initiative, so far, almost 400 of these turtles have been restored to the Rouge.
Other program partners include: Mississaugas of New Credit First Nation, Magnetawan First Nation, the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA), the Ontario Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks (MECP), and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF).
In June 2014, this group of partners began reintroducing juvenile Blanding’s turtles in the Rouge, and to date, has reintroduced 396 head-start and hatchling Blanding’s turtles in an effort to save the species. The Blanding’s turtle is a long-lived species with a life span of up to 80 years. This species has inhabited the Rouge Valley for thousands of years, though prior to 2014, its future was uncertain with as few as seven adult Blanding’s turtles remaining.
“All eight turtle species in Ontario are federally listed as at risk and need our help,” said Dolf DeJong, CEO, Toronto Zoo. “Blanding’s turtles are a flagship species representing a group of animals facing a variety of threats right here in our own backyard. Your Toronto Zoo is proud to be joining forces with these important community partners in educating the public on their plight in the wild and in doing everything we can to mitigate the threats they face and halt declining populations.”
“Parks Canada is committed to working with its partners to protect species at risk like the Blanding’s Turtle in Rouge National Urban Park,” said Omar Mcdadi, Field Unit Superintendent, Rouge National Urban Park. “Amphibians and reptiles, including Blanding’s Turtles, are great indicator species. These 57 turtles will be monitored for years to come, helping to track the health of wetlands in the park. This informs restoration projects throughout the Rouge to ensure we are preserving nature in Canada’s first national urban park for future generations.”
Canada’s first national urban park spans more than 79 km2 in the GTA, making it one of North America’s largest protected areas in an urban setting. The Blanding’s Turtle Head-Start Conservation Program in Rouge National Urban Park is part of a significant partnership to help recover this at-risk species.