Just over one year ago, Mitchell, then age 8, discovered an injured snapping turtle at the bottom of his back yard by Baxter Creek. It was early spring. Mitchell checked the following day and the turtle was still in the same place. He wasn’t looking very healthy and Mitchell reported his findings to his mom, Christine.
Christine knew just what to do. After checking on the young turtle herself and seeing how badly injured one of its front limbs was, she called the Turtle Trauma Centre in Peterborough. A member of their team came out and picked the turtle up.
That was a year ago. Late last week came the call from the Trauma Centre that the turtle was ready to be returned to its habitat. Much of the forelimb was missing following surgery, the infection was gone and the site had healed. Mitchell who, according to his mother, is passionate about wildlife and particularly reptiles, was very excited to go with his mother, after school, to the Trauma Centre and pick up the turtle. Both Christine and Mitchell were impressed by how much the turtle had grown; so much, in fact, that Kate at the Trauma Centre insisted that it be Christine, and not Mitchell, who was to handle and release the turtle. However, it was clearly Mitchell in charge as the ‘launch team’ headed back to Baxter Creek.
It is essential that turtles be re-introduced to the wild as close as possible to where they were found. Mitchell led the way to where he had first found the injured turtle, his mother, twin brother Ben and relatives Arlee and Odin right behind. Then the team made its way a little downstream to a bend where the current was weaker. Christine, with gloved hands, reached into the box and, following very specific instructions she’d received from Kate, picked the turtle up and bent down near the edge of the creek. In an instant, when she let go, the turtle was into the creek and gone. The team sensed that the creature knew where home was, and was eager to be done with humans.
At the Trauma Centre, once surgery and post-op recovery time is over, the turtles are left on their own to forage and survive in a habitat as close to natural as possible so that their reintroduction into the wild is a smooth transition. Working with 10 organizations across the province including the Toronto Wildlife Centre, the Kawartha Turtle Trauma Centre is the only one in the province specifically for turtles. It focuses on eight species, seven of which are on the endangered species list. Already this year, 44 injured turtles have been treated at the Trauma Centre, double the number for this time last year. The vast majority are injured on the road.
Not hunters, snapping turtles are important aquatic scavengers, consuming both plant and animal matter, dead and dying. They are the cleaners of our lakes and streams. They are also ‘little bulldozers’, creating channels in wetlands to allow other species – fish, amphibians and smaller reptiles – to travel along. They are vitally important to the health of wetlands which act as a filter for the water we drink.
Snapping turtles have a reputation for having ‘fierce’ dispositions on land, as they are unable to hide in their shells when confronted. The lower shell of a snapping turtle is very small, leaving the turtle defenseless on land. When encountered in water they usually slip quietly away from any disturbance and flee when threatened. Less than 1% of snapping turtles survive from egg to adult, and it is a long wait of as much as 15-25 years for a snapping turtle to reach maturity. They are a special concern species under Ontario’s Endangered Species Act.
Mitchell is very proud to have been a part of this turtle’s life and survival. He is looking forward to the summer holidays ahead when he can spend his days down at the creek.