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Canadian Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Network - Réseau Canadien de 
Conservation des Amphibiens et des Reptiles

Conservation Concerns

Reducing Traffic Mortality
Traffic mortality is a significant threat to many species of turtles. While closing roads adjacent to major wetlands may be the most desirable option from an environmental perspective it is unlikely to occur in many locations. Hence trying to reduce mortality is important.

The Canadian Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Network (CARCNET) undertook a media campaign in the spring of 2002 to try and educate drivers about turtles on roads. Many people would swerve recklessly to avoid hitting a dog or cat but think nothing of running over just a reptile. Our goal was to attempt to raise the profile of turtles and particularly to emphasize that many of the turtles people see on the road are females looking for a place to nest. This makes running over a turtle a motherhood issue - that's not just a turtle it's a mommy turtle.

A brief news article was written and a simple black and white graphic prepared. The text and graphic were emailed to over 100 newspapers in the province of Ontario - the province with the greatest diversity of turtle species and the largest human population. It is unclear how many papers actually ran the material, but we know at least a few did. In addition, reporters from some newspapers called for more information so they could write a feature article.

We encourage others to make use of this material. The text of our press release and the graphic are available below. Feel free to edit the text to fit your own particular geographic area. We are grateful for financial support for this project from the Mountain Equipment Co-op Environment Fund.

Press release:

Slow, Turtles!

Why did the turtle cross the road? To get to the other side.

It may seem silly, but it's the truth. Right now many turtles are moving from one marsh to another, to find food, locate a mate or to lay eggs. Historically this was no problem, but today turtles often must cross busy roads on their wanderings. The result is that hundreds maybe even thousands of turtles are killed every year.

"Traffic mortality is a serious issue for turtles," says Carolyn Seburn of the Canadian Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Network. Ronald Brooks, a professor of biology at the University of Guelph agrees. "My view is that these animals are not going to survive if we don't prevent the roadkill problem."

There are many reasons why turtles are particularly vulnerable to traffic mortality. First of all, many of the turtles seen trying to cross roads are females looking for places to lay their eggs. Because turtles can live for decades, killing pregnant females not only removes reproductive adults from the population but it also removes all their potential future offspring. In addition, surviving turtles can't lay extra eggs to compensate for increased mortality, so once a population starts to decline it is difficult to reverse the trend.

What can drivers do? "It's important to watch the road carefully when you're driving," says Seburn, "particularly where the road comes near to wetlands and rivers. Remember that turtles don't move very quickly and their first response to danger is to pull into their shells. Turtles don't understand about cars, but drivers can act responsibly and avoid hitting a turtle."

In many locations in Ontario drivers can also watch for turtle crossing signs. These signs depicting a stylized turtle are the work of Turtle S.H.E.L.L. (Safety, Habitat, Education, Long Life), a non-profit group dedicated to the conservation of turtles. The signs have been posted at known crossing areas and they alert drivers that turtles may be crossing the road.

The Canadian Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Network is a charitable organization dedication to ensuring the survival of Canada's native amphibians and reptiles. Recently it launched a major campaign to help reduce traffic mortality in turtles. The Canadian Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Network gratefully acknowledges the financial support of the Mountain Equipment Co-op Environment Fund in accomplishing its goals. To find out more about turtles and the threats they face visit our website at www.carcnet.ca.

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