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Please Don't Relocate Turtles!
Turtles are determined creatures and if removed from their home range they will unceasingly try to find their way back home. The reason for bringing this up is that the topic of relocating turtles comes up a lot. It stems from people with the very best of intentions relocating turtles to their "version" of a better location. We love that folks care about the turtles but when it comes to moving turtles it is important to not move turtles any further than across the road and a safe distance away from the road in the direction, the turtle was headed. Relocating a turtle to a wetlands 10 km from where the turtle was situated or to a friend's pond without meaning to can turn a turtle's world upside down. Turtles are creatures of habit and do not cope well with being relocated. A turtle that has been relocated will be stressed and at such a disadvantage in a new environment. They have to find food and water and negotiate their way in an unfamiliar territory. Turtles unable to find their way home may stop eating, fall ill and even die.
We completely understand wanting to help, don't think we aren't tempted sometimes to relocate a turtle but there is a vast difference between helping and interfering with nature's way. Turtles have been around for over 200 million years they know what they are doing when not interfered with even though we sometimes think they do not. Turtles travel overland and in the water with a purpose.
Reasons For Concern
Where a turtle is located is because it meets the habitat needs of that turtle and has a role in supporting its life cycle and the history that goes along with that. Turtles have several different habitats within their home range. This includes; (1) overwintering habitat (which can be very specific), (2) nesting habitat, and (3) active season habitat (feeding and breeding). Moving a turtle to a location of our choice can have a monumental impact on a turtle and can affect the resident turtle population.
Every turtle carries a signature bacteria specific to the water body they inhabited up until they were moved. A turtle introduced into a different water body can act as a host or vector for pathogens, parasites, and/or disease (like any plant or animal). This could upset the ecosystem balance associated with that water body and affect the aquatic wildlife, plants (biotic/abiotic), micro-organisms in that body of water, and us. The health of a body of water if compromised can result in recreational water illnesses and waterborne parasites that affect people and beloved pets. Other considerations when relocating a turtle include the effect this has on the gene pool and the risk of spreading ranavirus between ecosystems should this be a factor.
The hazards of introducing pathogens, parasites, and/or disease into an otherwise healthy ecosystem are of such a concern that the Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre home of Ontario's turtle hospital requests the "point of origin" when a turtle is admitted to the OTCC. When a turtle is treated, recovered, and deemed fit to be released back into the wild the turtle will be released at the point of origin. If for some reason the point of origin is not supplied the OTCC will not risk releasing the turtle's into another other water body as a precaution and that isn't fair to a healthy turtle that after that may end up a teaching turtle.
Resist The Urge
Most people know not to just plunk a turtle on or near the road shoulder after moving the turtle off the road and to walk the turtle a few steps further to ensure the turtle is safely away from the road.
Under the Ontario Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act interpretation documents turtles being a species at risk cannot be moved more than "200 meters" if in harm's way. In almost all cases moving a turtle safely off the road and ensuring they are situated a distance away from the road would be well within the specified 200 meters. If you feel a turtle is still in harm's way having walked the maximum allowable distance please contact the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry to speak with a Conservation Officer. On average it would take an adult depending on the speed they walk approximately 1 - 2 minutes to travel 100 meters. This would roughly mean if you walked more than 4 minutes you would be beyond the maximum distance a turtle can be moved. We are looking out for our friends when we tell you that moving a turtle beyond 200 meters is considered poaching and subject to monetary fines that can reach up to $25,000. Please do not relocate turtles. Turtles need our help but in ways that will not jeopardize their well-being albeit unintentionally.
If you have concerns and want to talk to us about this topic give us a call. As always 'thank you' so much for looking out for the turtles.
Turtles are located where they are for a reason.