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TURTLES ARE TOPS AT TORONTO ZOO

Blanding’s Turtle Adopt-An-Animal Campaign Supports

Important Head-Start Conservation Program

In the Fall of 2016 Toronto Zoo offered an exclusive opportunity for the public to adopt and name 49 baby Blanding’s turtles as part of the Zoo’s Adopt-An-Animal Program. This particular Adopt-An-Animal offer was an extra special opportunity as the adopted ‘parents’ were given the chance to name the baby Blanding’s turtles that would later be released into the wild. The program is part of a significant partnership between Toronto Zoo, Parks Canada, the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA), and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) to help recover this threatened species.

The Blanding’s turtle is a long-lived species, with a life span of up to 80 years, and has inhabited the Rouge Valley for thousands of years, though prior to 2014 its future was uncertain, with as few as six adult Blanding’s turtles remaining. These ‘adopted’ Blanding’s turtles were rescued as eggs from non-viable nests in a stable source population in southern Ontario and have been raised in a controlled environment at the Toronto Zoo for two years. Giving these turtles a ‘head-start’ on life, the Zoo has raised them past their most vulnerable stages where they face an increased chance of predation from animals like raccoons. The University of Toronto Scarborough has joined this head-starting project and is assisting with long term monitoring of the released turtles. Parks Canada, the TRCA, the MNRF, and the Toronto Zoo believe that this type of head-starting and reintroduction of the turtles, along with long term monitoring and ongoing habitat restoration, are keys to the species’ survival in the future Rouge National Urban Park.

In celebration of Canada 150, this coming June the Toronto Zoo, Parks Canada, the MNRF, and the TRCA will be reintroducing the 49 adopted baby Blanding’s turtles to a wetland that will be part of Rouge National Urban Park in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) – Canada’s first national urban park. This will be the fourth year Blanding’s turtles – listed as Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and a provincially and nationally Threatened species – will have been released in the park. In June 2016, the same group of partners collaborated on the release of 36 baby Blanding’s turtles in the Rouge, bringing the total number of released to 67 head-started and 50 hatchling Blanding’s turtles.

“Blanding’s turtles are a flagship species representing a group of animals facing a variety of threats,” said Dr. Andrew Lentini, Curator of Amphibians and Reptiles, Toronto Zoo. “Seven of eight turtle species in Ontario are at risk and need our help. All Canadians can learn how to help turtles by visiting Toronto Zoo’s Adopt-A-Pond website and by reporting sighting to Toronto Zoo’s Ontario Turtle Tally.”

This past Sunday, March 26th, the ‘parents’ of the adopted baby Blanding’s turtles enjoyed a morning at the Zoo where they met with Dr. Andrew Lentini, Curator of Amphibians and Reptiles and Paul Yannuzzi, the care specialist for the baby turtles. They enjoyed learning about these fascinating turtles and were able to see their individual adopted baby turtles via visual presentation. Each turtle was presented with their very own new name alongside its adoptive parent. Some of the creatively chosen names were as follows: Princess Seaweed, Commodore Fitzroy Shellington, Squirt, Lightning, and Turtley just to name a few! Adopted ‘parents’ also enjoyed meeting the Zoo’s resident mature Blanding’s turtle affectionately named “Captain Sunshine” and Blanding’s turtle mascot “Bobbers”.

Left: “Bobbers” the Blanding’s Turtle Mascot with Adopt-An-Animal “Parent” and Right: Dr. Andrew Lentini, Curator of Amphibians and Reptiles, Toronto Zoo and “Captain Sunshine”.

The following are testimonials from ‘parents’ of the adopted baby Blanding’s turtles:

My daughter and I are both huge animal lovers and turtles were one of my favourite animals as a child. The Turtle Are Tops program was an exciting and unique opportunity both to support conservation work at the Toronto Zoo and to have the privilege of naming one of the Blanding’s turtle babies in honour of my daughter. We have “adopted” animals from the Toronto Zoo and other organizations throughout the years, but this opportunity was particularly special as we got to feel a closer connection to the animal by naming it and receiving its photo. 

Sarai P. and Daughter

When I was young my dad would often take myself and my brothers to a pond on the outskirts of town for fishing and nature watching.  We affectionately called this place ‘The Turtle Pond” for the abundance of turtles sitting on the logs on the edge of the marshlands.  I always looked forward to these trips anticipating which types of turtles I would see and how many. The turtles always seemed to be so happy and content basking in the sunlight.  I fondly remember it as a great and enjoyable part of my childhood.  Now, with so many turtles in Ontario classified as Species at Risk, sightings have become less common.  The Blanding’s Turtle initiative sponsored by the Toronto Zoo is a great project to learn specifically about this type of turtle and to help increase its presence in the area.  For this reason I am happy to support this cause and look forward to the Zoo’s organizers gathering valuable information from this project and applying knowledge gained for future improvements to the turtle population for all including children of the next generation to benefit.  

Robert S.

The Zoo has always been associated with enjoying time with my children during the weekends when they were growing up. I loved spending the day there with them. It was fun, educational and a great way to get in some quality family time. My daughter is now going to Vet school and I’m sure those early days at the Zoo were instrumental in establishing an early love and respect for animals. Today, I love supporting the Zoo through its programs, like the Turtles Are Tops initiative.  My nephew (the only child left under 18) loves his yearly Zoo gifts and my daughter still “adopts” a Zoo animal each year. These are excellent ways, not only to support the Toronto Zoo, but to provide opportunities for young people to learn about and care for animals, especially those at risk.

P. Samworth

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