By Monte Sonnenberg, Simcoe Reformer
Tuesday, June 25, 2013 10:09:49 EDT PM
LONG POINT – The Ministry of Natural Resources is asking the public to be on the lookout for people behaving suspiciously around area ponds and wetlands.
The ministry has received reports in recent weeks of people in the local area helping themselves to turtles in the wild. The reports are disturbing because poaching of this sort can be devastating to species-at-risk.
“We are speculating as to why they are taking them,” Emmilia Kuisma, a district strategic officer with the MNR in Aylmer, said Tuesday. “It’s either for the pet trade or the food trade.”
The unregulated removal of turtles is a problem because the animals do not breed easily.
“It can take up to 25 years for turtles to reach reproductive maturity,” Kuisma said. “Removing even a few can have significant environmental impacts.”
Conservationists in recent years have successfully raised the alarm about reptile mortality in the Long Point-Port Rowan area.
The 3.4-kilometre Long Point Causeway linking the two communities was identified several years ago as a primary killing ground in North America for snakes, turtles and frogs. Trouble arises when they attempt to make the trip between Long Point Bay and the Big Creek Marsh. Eco-passages have since been installed beneath the causeway, allowing wildlife to migrate back and forth away from the traffic hazard.
Unfortunately, all this consciousness-raising may have flagged the Long Point area as a prime hunting ground for poachers from outside the area.
“I won’t say this is a new issue,” says Rick Levick of Toronto, co-ordinator of the Long Point Causeway Improvement Project. “Long Point is well known for having rare species of reptiles, animals and plants. It’s a concern that people would remove them from the environment. We have had a lot of publicity of late about turtles. It is illegal to remove species-at-risk. I don’t think these guys drive down here just to get one. We’re glad the ministry is taking an interest in this. It’s up to us to protect our wildlife, just like we’d protect anything else in the community.”
Norfolk and surrounding area are home to 19 species of turtles and snakes. Of the seven species of turtles in the local area, six are listed as endangered. Tips for easing the pressure on vulnerable populations include:
• Slow down when driving past wetlands and heavily forested areas. Be on the lookout for turtles, snakes and other creatures that might venture onto the road.
• Remove turtles from the roadway where it is safe to do so. Deposit them on the side of the road in the direction they are heading. Consider carrying a scoop shovel in your trunk to move snapping turtles out of harm’s way.
• Report sightings of turtles and snakes to the Long Point Basin Land Trust at LongPointLandTrust.ca. Details about reptilian behaviour in the local area shape conservation efforts and make them more effective.
• Report suspicious activity or suspected poaching to the authorities. The Ministry of Natural Resources tip line is 1-877-847-7667.