Six snapping turtle hatchlings released back to the home they almost never got to know

One of the six turtle hatchlings Dr. Ryan Llera was able to release into their natural habitat after their mother was hit by a vehicle and killed earlier this year.

If you’ve lived in the Kingston and the area for any length of time, chances are you’ve noticed just how many places turtles call home in and around the city.

Every year, countless turtles die, whether they are struck by vehicles trying to cross the road, killed during roadside grass and weed cutting, or specifically targeted by those who don’t appreciate that the turtles lived here before any of us did – and many of them are considered at-risk species.

From the stretch of Princess Street (or Highway 2) that runs through the wetlands between Westbrook and Collins Bay, to the banks of the St. Lawrence River at Doug Fluhrer Park, to the many waterside communities scattered throughout Frontenac County, the issues surrounding the protection and preservation of local turtle species comes up annually – right around the time female turtles start to lay eggs, often doing so in the sands and rock along the roadside.

Conservation authorities, not-for-profit organizations, and city councillors alike have called for action to reduce the number of turtle deaths that are caused annually by vehicles and machinery (as well as chemicals). Signs have been erected in a number of areas with heavy turtle populations and groups like Turtles Kingston have even created programs to help get injured turtles to Sandy Pines Wildlife Centre for treatment – and they also transport dead female turtles to Sandy Pines in order for their eggs to be extracted and incubated in an attempt to kept the local turtle species populated.

Turtles Kingston’s program is called the ‘Turtle Trauma Response Program,’ and was set up this past spring. A number of local veterinary clinics, as well as the Kingston Humane Society, became designated ‘Temporary Holding Stations’ for Turtles Kingston – places where any local residents can drop of injured or dead turtles. Those turtles are then picked up by one of the Turtles Kingston volunteer transport drivers who transport the turtles to Sandy Pines for medical treatment, shell reconstruction, or egg extraction.

One such Temporary Holding Station just so happens to be Kingston Veterinary Clinic, the very clinic where Kingstonist contributor Dr. Ryan Llera works. In fact, Kingston Veterinary Clinic was the first ‘Temporary Holding Station’ in Kingston, as Llera was quick to commend Turtles Kingston for their efforts in responding to the plight of turtles locally, and the partnership was quick to form thereafter.

“We knew he would be the perfect person to launch the program,” said Mabyn Armstrong of Turtles Kingston.

Coincidentally, while on his way into the his clinic on Saturday, Jun. 9, 2018, Llera happened upon a mother snapping turtle, barley clinging to life right beside the Murvale Creek on Highway 38.

By the time Llera got the turtle to Kingston Veterinary Clinic, the turtle had died.

“The damage from the car was so severe that she had a major crack down the center of her shell and I could see eggs inside,”

The turtle was picked up by Turtles Kingston volunteer transport driver Dennis Bell, who took her to Sandy Pines where her eggs were extracted and incubated.

Three months later, the efforts of Llera, Armstrong, Bell, and the team incredible team at Sandy Pines were realized.

“Sandy Pines called me on Sunday, Sept. 9, letting me know that six of the eggs had hatched about a week earlier and asked if I wanted to release them back in the same location I picked up their mom,” Llera said.

Less than a week later, Llera picked up the six little hatchlings pictured above and released them back into their natural habitat. While it is a story that includes sadness for Llera and the other parties involved, it is also one that shares the impact vigilant care for animals can have – if six baby turtles were able to be saved from this one injured mother turtle, imagine how many other baby turtles could possibly be saved, given the number of turtles killed or injured in the area.

“While the death of another member of the snapping turtle species is sad, I’m pleased to have been able to help six of her babies have a chance at living to help them and the species survive. It’s important that we do our part, locally or more widespread, to take care of our environment,” Llera said.

“Turtles have been around for thousands of years and none of us should be in such a hurry that we can’t stop to help them off the road or avoid hitting them in the first place. Releasing these babies was a privilege but I’d rather their mom had survived and been able to help this at-risk species carry on.”

For those with Turtles Kingston, while the death of another snapping turtle is never something to celebrate, but the fact the program they launched is doing precisely what it was meant to do – help preserve the local turtle populations – is worth celebrating.

“Six beautiful hatchlings that will hopefully contribute significantly to their turtle populations!” said Armstrong, noting that none of the work would be fruitful without the “incredible staff and volunteers with Sandy Pines Wildlife Centre who work endless hours with limited resources.”

“We are so pleased with the results! It has made every effort Turtles Kingston has made thus far worth it,” Armstrong continued.

“It is our compassion that will save the turtles, the most imperilled species on the planet. Saving the planet one turtle at a time… or, in this case, six!”

To see Dr. Llera’s video footage from his release of the hatchlings, visit his Facebook page here, or go directly to the video here.

To find out more about Turtles Kingston and their Turtle Trauma Response Program, visit their Facebook page here.

To find out more about Sandy Pines Wildlife Centre, or find out how you can make a donation to Sandy Pines, go to their website here. Both monetary and non-monetary donations (such as paper towels, towels, latex gloves, garbage bags, etc.) are accepted by Sandy Pines.

All six of the baby turtles Dr. Ryan Llera was able to return to their natural habitat on Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018. The babies are snapping turtle hatchlings, and snapping turtles are an at-risk species.

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