Follow our conservation experts as they work to reintroduce Blanding's turtles to the wetlands of Rouge National Urban Park.

June 2021: Saving the Turtle with the Sun Under its Chin

The Blanding’s Turtle Head-Start Conservation Program, co-led by Parks Canada and the Toronto Zoo, added 48 juvenile Blanding’s turtles to Rouge National Urban Park on June 22, 2021 as part of recovery efforts to support this threatened species in the Greater Toronto Area.

The turtle release also commemorated National Indigenous Peoples Day on June 21 which acknowledges the heritage, cultures and achievements of Indigenous peoples in Canada. Turtles appear in many traditional teachings and Creation stories, and Parks Canada and the Toronto Zoo are proud to help reintroduce “the turtle with the sun under its chin” into Rouge National Urban Park.

Now in its eighth year of releases, the collaborative initiative has helped bring this threatened local species back from the brink of local extirpation. Over 500 Blanding’s turtles have been released into Rouge National Urban Park in an effort to save the species, including more than 300 juveniles, which have been given a “head-start” in life through this program since June 2014. When reintroduction efforts began in 2012, there were fewer than 10 individual Blanding’s turtles remaining in the Rouge Valley.

The Blanding’s Turtle Head-Start Conservation Program is part of The Toronto Zoo’s Adopt-A-Pond Wetland Conservation Program, a comprehensive approach to species recovery, which also includes habitat creation, academic research, stewardship initiatives, and outreach and education programs to save this species. The program reintroduces this threatened species into Rouge National Urban Park’s natural and restored wetlands. Each year, turtle eggs are collected under permit from stable source populations in Ontario. The eggs are brought under the care of the Toronto Zoo where they are incubated, hatched and raised for two years, until they’re the size of a four or five-year old wild turtle. At this point, their shells are large enough to evade most predators such as raccoons, skunks, foxes, coyotes and crows, giving them a head-start in life!

“My perspective on helping wildlife and wild spaces is simple – conservation is a team sport – and we need more players,” says Dolf DeJong, CEO, Toronto Zoo. “The Blanding’s Turtle Head-Start Conservation Program is the epitome of positioning conservation as a team sport in order to make a difference and save species. From our perspective, this important species recovery program is a fine example of community collaborations in action to connect people, animals and conservation science to fight extinction,” he added.

Program partners include: City of Toronto, Magnetawan First Nation, the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA), Georgian Bay Biosphere, the Ontario Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks (MECP), and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF), the Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre, Toronto Wildlife Centre, and Scales Nature Park.

The Blanding’s turtle, a long-lived species with a life span of up to 80+ years, is listed as an threatened species provincially, nationally and globally. Populations are highly sensitive to human-induced threats such as habitat loss and fragmentation caused by urban development and drainage of wetlands for agriculture, road mortality, and increased levels of predation due to predators.

To keep track of the turtles’ movement and survival, staff from the Toronto Zoo partner with research scientists from the University of Toronto-Scarborough and Laurentian University to attach tiny radio transmitters to each of their shells. The information gained from monitoring these turtles helps to improve understanding of survival and habitat use, and provides critical information for park managers to create additional suitable wetland areas where aquatic animals can thrive. Long-term turtle habitat improvement projects include wetland restoration, the creation of nesting habitats, and the construction of road way eco-passages that will promote this species’ long-term survival and sustainability in the Rouge Valley.

“Protecting this threatened species and its habitats in Rouge National Urban Park benefits other native turtles, amphibians, fish, birds, and mammals that use the same wetland homes,” says Ron Hallman, Parks Canada CEO. “Partnering with the Toronto Zoo and the University of Toronto-Scarborough to track this year’s cohort of turtles, as well as turtles from previous years, is helping Parks Canada to monitor turtle survival and wetland health in the park to ensure that in-park restoration projects are best protecting nature and wildlife in Canada’s first national urban park for current and future generations.”

June 2020: Giving Nature a Head Start! 

Blanding’s Turtles Released in Rouge National Urban Park

On June 23, 2020, Fifty-seven baby Blanding’s turtles got a head start in the Greater Toronto Area’s (GTA) Rouge National Urban Park today thanks to a collaborative head start program co-led by Parks Canada and the Toronto Zoo.

This was the seventh year that Blanding’s turtles – federally-listed as endangered and provincially-listed as a threatened species – have been reintroduced into the park. These Blanding’s turtles were rescued as eggs from non-viable nests in Ontario and have been raised in a protected environment at the Zoo for two years. Thanks to this initiative, so far, almost 400 of these turtles have been restored to the Rouge.

This year’s Blanding’s turtle release also took place in close proximity to National Indigenous Peoples Day on June 21. On this day, we celebrate the heritage, cultures and achievements of Indigenous Peoples in Canada. Turtles appear in many traditional teachings and the turtle also plays an essential role in the Creation Story, as the Earth is formed on its back. Referred to as “the turtle with the sun under its chin,” the Blanding’s turtle is significant to First Nations communities and we are thrilled to help re-introduce them into Rouge National Urban Park.

Parks Canada works with 10 First Nations with respect to the planning and operations of the park to form the Rouge National Urban Park First Nations Advisory Circle (FNAC). This year, Elder Garry Sault of Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation did a virtual blessing of the Blanding’s turtles before they were released to send them off on their journey. The Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation has a historical and cultural connection to the area in the national urban park and we are proud to continue to grow partnerships with the FNAC.

Other program partners include: Mississaugas of New Credit First Nation, Magnetawan First Nation, the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA), the Ontario Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks, and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry.

In June 2014, this group of partners began reintroducing baby Blanding’s turtles in the Rouge, and to date, has reintroduced 396 head-start and hatchling Blanding’s turtles in an effort to save the species. The Blanding’s turtle is a long-lived species with a life span of up to 80 years. This species has inhabited the Rouge Valley for thousands of years, though prior to 2014, its future was uncertain with as few as seven adult Blanding’s turtles remaining.

“All eight turtle species in Ontario are federally-listed as at risk and need our help,” said Dolf DeJong, CEO, Toronto Zoo. “Blanding’s turtles are a flagship species representing a group of animals facing a variety of threats right here in our own backyard. Your Toronto Zoo is proud to be partnering with these important community partners in educating the public on their plight in the wild and in doing everything we can to mitigate the threats they face and halt declining populations.”

“Parks Canada is committed to working with its partners to protect species at risk like the Blanding’s Turtle in Rouge National Urban Park,” said Omar Mcdadi, Field Unit Superintendent, Rouge National Urban Park. “Amphibians and reptiles, including Blanding’s turtles, are great indicator species. These 57 turtles will be monitored for years to come, helping to track the health of wetlands in the park. This informs restoration projects throughout the Rouge to ensure we are preserving nature in Canada’s first national urban park for future generations.”

Rouge National Urban Park spans more than 79 km2 in the GTA, making it one of North America’s largest protected areas in an urban setting. The Blanding’s Turtle Head-Start Conservation Program in the national urban park is part of a significant partnership to help recover this at-risk species.

June 2020: Keeping an Eye on the Rouge’s Blanding’s Turtles

Parks Canada, the Toronto Zoo, and other partners have released 339 baby Blanding’s turtles to date into Rouge National Urban Park (RNUP) to assist with the recovery of this threatened species. But what happens after these turtles are released in the park?

Megan Young, Wildlife Biologist from the Toronto Zoo’s Adopt-A-Pond Wetland Conservation Program, explains that, when the turtles are released, several have transmitters attached to their shells. These are tiny devices that each send out a unique radio signal which field technicians can later tune into to find different turtles. The transmitters’ signals give off a beeping noise and as the technicians get closer, the beeps get louder. “Like a game of Marco Polo,” says Young.

The turtles are monitored all year long, but how often they’re checked on depends on the season. Since they’re cold-blooded, their movement is related to the air and water temperature,” Young explains. In the summer, they’re monitored 2-3 times a week because they’re more likely on the move, whereas, in the winter they’re monitored once a month because the turtles are hibernating.

When members of the Adopt-A-Pond team find a turtle, they record its location and how much it has moved since it was last checked. They look around the area it’s in to identify preferred habitat characteristics.

They note its behaviour – if it’s swimming, hiding or basking – and if they can see it, they record if it has any injuries or other concerns to its health. They’ll also make note of the weather to see how environmental factors like temperature, cloudiness or precipitation play a role in the turtle’s behaviour.

Why collect all this data? “We review the data regularly with the Toronto Zoo to ensure we are making informed decisions while managing this introduced population,” says Paul Yannuzzi, RNUP Resource Management Officer.

In identifying habitat use, survival rates and behaviour patterns, the teams are able to see if there are any habitat needs that aren’t being met. “The Toronto Zoo and Parks Canada work together to identify future release habitats in the Rouge, and work closely with the [TRCA] to restore those habitats, if needed, so they are ideal for Blanding’s turtles and other wetland creatures,” Yannuzzi explains. Want to hear more about how the Blanding’s Turtles are doing? Check out the Adopt-A-Pond's blog. Want to get involved? You can help monitor turtles and frogs in your backyard. Become a citizen scientist by downloading the Adopt-A-Pond app and reporting your sightings.

May 2020: Closed but still caring

Getting the 2020 Cohort of Blanding’s Turtles Ready to be Released into RNUP

Despite facility closures due to COVID-19, conservation projects continue and Parks Canada and the Toronto Zoo are preparing to release more head start Blanding’s turtles into the park this year.

Learn more

June 2019: Parks Canada and the Toronto Zoo release 48 more Blanding’s Turtles into Rouge National Urban Park

Blanding's Turtle

On Friday June 21st 2019, Parks Canada, the Toronto Zoo, the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) reintroduced 48 more baby Blanding’s turtles into a wetland in Rouge National Urban Park. The Blanding’s Turtle Head-Start conservation program is a partnership between the former mentioned organizations to help recover this Endangered species.

This is the sixth year Blanding’s turtles – listed as Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and a provincially and nationally Threatened species – have been released in the park. The program which started in 2014 has now officially reintroduced 213 juvenile Blanding’s turtles into the wild in an effort to save the species.

The Blanding’s turtle release also falls on National Indigenous Peoples Day. On this day, we celebrate the heritage, cultures and achievements of Indigenous peoples in Canada. Turtles appear in many traditional stories including “How the turtle got its shell” and “How the Blanding’s turtle got its yellow chin”. The turtle also plays an essential role in the Creation story, as the Earth is formed on its back. Referred to as ‘the turtle with the sun under its chin,’ the Blanding’s turtle is significant to First Nations and we are proud to help re-introduce them into Rouge National Urban Park on this day.

These 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 protected environment at the Toronto Zoo for two years. Giving these turtles a ‘head-start’ in life, the Zoo has raised them past their most vulnerable stages where they would otherwise have faced an increased chance of predation from animals like raccoons. The University of Toronto Scarborough is assisting with long term monitoring of the released turtles. Parks Canada, the TRCA, the OMNRF, 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 Rouge National Urban Park.

The public can help protect the turtles by avoiding their nesting areas and by contacting authorities if they observe harmful behavior toward turtles or suspicious behaviour in their habitat. The location of the wetland housing the reintroduced turtles will not be disclosed at this time to help minimize disturbances and give the animals the best chance of surviving.

The Toronto Zoo and TRCA began collecting information on and monitoring Blanding’s turtles in the Rouge Valley in 2005. Environment Canada and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry provided funding, permits and in-kind support for Blanding’s turtle monitoring in the Rouge Valley in previous years. Rouge National Urban Park is Canada’s first national park in an urban setting. Parks Canada is continuing to work on a long-term turtle monitoring program. Earth Rangers, an environmental conservation organization focused on engaging youth in the protection of nature, also provided support for the project by building a facility to house the turtle eggs and babies at the Toronto Zoo.

June 2018: Parks Canada and the Toronto Zoo release 49 more baby turtles in the Rouge!

Blanding's Turtle

On Thursday June 21, 2018, the Toronto Zoo, Parks Canada, Toronto and Region Conservation Authority and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) reintroduced another group of 49 baby Blanding's turtles to a wetland in the Rouge National Urban Park– Canada’s first national urban park.

This is the fifth year Blanding’s turtles – listed as Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and a provincially and nationally threatened species – have been released into the park. The program which began in 2014 has now reintroduced 165 juvenile Blanding’s turtles into the wild in an effort to save the species.

The long-lived species, with a life span of up to 80 years, has inhabited the Rouge Valley for thousands of years, though prior to 2014 its future was uncertain, with as few as six Blanding’s turtles remaining. Blanding’s turtles are an important indicator species for wetland health and Parks Canada is strongly committed to re-establishing a healthy local population in Rouge National Urban Park.

These Blanding’s turtles were rescued as eggs from a stable source population in southern Ontario and have been raised in a protected environment at the Toronto zoo for two years. Helping to give the turtles a ‘head-start’, the Toronto Zoo has raised them passed their most vulnerable phases where they would have been much more susceptible to predation. 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 OMNRF and the Toronto Zoo all believe that this ‘head-start’ and reintroduction of the turtles coupled with long-term monitoring and continuous habitat restoration are the keys to the Blanding’s turtles’ survival in Rouge National Urban Park.

On March 28th 2018, the Toronto Zoo opened a new Blanding’s turtle exhibit for visitors of the zoo to get a ‘behind the scenes’ look at one of the Toronto Zoo and Parks Canada’s most successful conservation programs.

The public can help protect Blanding’s turtles by avoiding their nesting areas and by contacting authorities if they observe harmful behavior toward turtles or their habitat. To report turtle poaching, please contact Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477.

Many more Blanding’s turtle releases are planned in the coming years!

June 2017: Parks Canada and the Toronto Zoo release 49 more baby turtles in the Rouge!

Young Blanding's turtle

On June 28, 2017, the Toronto Zoo, Parks Canada and Toronto and Region Conservation Authority reintroduced another cohort of 49 baby Blanding's turtles to a wetland that will soon be part of Rouge National Urban Park in the Greater Toronto Area – Canada’s first national urban park.

This is the fourth year Blanding’s turtles – a provincially and nationally threatened species – have been released in the park. The program, which began reintroducing baby Blanding’s turtles in June 2014, has now reintroduced 116 baby Blanding’s turtles in total into the wild.

The long-lived species, with a life span of up to 80 years, has inhabited the Rouge Valley for thousands of years, though prior to 2014 its future was uncertain, with as few as six Blanding’s turtles remaining. Blanding’s turtles are an important indicator species for wetland health and Parks Canada is strongly committed to re-establishing a healthy local population in Rouge National Urban Park.

The turtle eggs were collected from a stable source population in southern Ontario in 2014 and have been raised in a controlled environment at the Toronto Zoo over the last two years. 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 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 animal’s survival in the future Rouge National Urban Park.

The public can help protect Blanding’s turtles by avoiding their nesting areas and by contacting authorities if they observe harmful behavior toward turtles or their habitat. To report turtle poaching, please contact Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477.

Many more Blanding’s turtle releases are planned in the coming years!

June 2016: Parks Canada and the Toronto Zoo release 36 more baby turtles in the Rouge

On June 21, 2016, the Toronto Zoo, Parks Canada and Toronto and Region Conservation Authority reintroduced another cohort of 36 baby Blanding's turtles to a wetland that will be part of Rouge National Urban Park in the Greater Toronto Area – Canada’s first national urban park.

This is the third year Blanding’s turtles – a provincially and nationally threatened species – have been released in the park. In June 2015, the same group of partners collaborated on the release of 21 baby Blanding’s turtles in the Rouge. Another 10 baby turtles were released in June 2014.

The long-lived species, with a life span of up to 80 years, has inhabited the Rouge Valley for thousands of years, though prior to 2014 its future was uncertain, with as few as six Blanding’s turtles remaining. Blanding’s turtles are an important indicator species for wetland health and Parks Canada is strongly committed to re-establishing a healthy local population in Rouge National Urban Park.

The turtle eggs were collected from a stable source population in southern Ontario in 2014 and have been raised in a controlled environment at the Toronto Zoo over the last two years. 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 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 animal’s survival in the future Rouge National Urban Park.

The public can help protect Blanding’s turtles by avoiding their nesting areas and by contacting authorities if they observe harmful behavior toward turtles or their habitat. To report turtle poaching, please contact Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477.

Many more Blanding’s turtle releases are planned in the coming years!

June 2015: Baby turtles released in the future Rouge National Urban Park

On June 23, 2015, the Toronto Zoo, Parks Canada and the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) released 21 baby Blanding's turtles to a pond that will soon be part of Rouge National Urban Park in the Greater Toronto Area.

This is the second year Blanding’s turtles – a provincially and nationally threatened species – have been released in the Rouge. In June 2014, the same group of partners collaborated on the release of 10 baby Blanding’s turtles.

The long-lived species, with a life span of up to 100 years, has inhabited the Rouge Valley for thousands of years, though prior to last year’s release its future was uncertain, with as few as six Blanding’s turtles remaining.

Blanding’s turtles are an important indicator species for wetland health and Parks Canada is strongly committed to re-establishing a healthy local population in Rouge National Urban Park.

The turtle eggs were collected from a stable source population in southern Ontario in 2013 and have been raised at the Toronto Zoo over the last two years. Earth Rangers also provided support for the project by building a facility to house the turtle eggs and babies at the zoo.

The public can help protect Blanding’s turtles by avoiding their nesting areas and by contacting authorities if they observe harmful behavior toward turtles or their habitat. The location of the pond housing the reintroduced turtles will not be disclosed at this time to help minimize disturbances and give the animals the best chance of surviving. To report turtle poaching, please contact Crime Stoppers.

Many more Blanding’s turtle releases are planned in the coming years!