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Port Franks turtle rescue



Port Franks man’s effort starts chain of events that results in rescue response for species-at-risk turtle through airlift to Peterborough

The rescue effort to save ‘Porter,’ a Port Franks area snapping turtle critically injured in an encounter with a car, has become a province-wide news story. The quick actions of Bill Mallett, a Port Franks man and turtle monitoring volunteer, started a chain of events that resulted in the volunteer efforts of pilot and turtle rehabilitation charities to airlift the species-at-risk turtle to Peterborough for treatment.

Mallett found the 13-pound male snapping turtle on May 9, in the Northville area, not far from Port Franks. When he found the turtle on the road it was in very poor shape with upper and lower jaws fractured in multiple areas. When the Port Franks man first found the bleeding turtle, he thought it had no chance of survival but he carried the animal off the road. When Mallett set the turtle down, the animal started walking and then looked up at him. The turtle monitoring volunteer said that, at that moment, “I knew I had to do something.”

“I then thought there was some hope for this guy,” he recalled. When Mallett called the Ontario Provincial Police to find out what to do, they referred him to the Kawartha Turtle Trauma Centre, a non-profit, registered charity in Peterborough that operates a hospital for injured wild turtles, and releases them back into the wild when healed.

The trauma centre advised Mallett how to pick up the turtle in such a way that neither he nor the animal would get injured. The volunteers at the centre told him about Heaven’s Wildlife Rescue, a local wildlife rescue, rehabilitation, and release centre in Oil Springs. He loaded the turtle into his van and took off his sweater to cover the bleeding animal to keep the animal in the dark to keep him calm and protect the eyes. When Mallett arrived at the animal rescue site, he met Peggy Jenkins, who runs Heaven’s Wildlife Rescue. The local man said he was very impressed by Jenkins’s caring for animals. “She is going out of her way to help wildlife,” he said. “Peggy is one in ten million people, she really is – she is totally devoted to all those animals and she relies totally on donations and her own resources.” Jenkins told him the turtle’s critical injuries made it necessary to get the reptile to the trauma centre in Peterborough.

Mallett, who is a retired former officer with the Air Cadets, suggested there might be pilots who would be willing to fly the turtle to the centre for surgery and that’s when Jenkins thought of Pilots N Paws Canada, a volunteer-based community of Canadian pilots that helps Canadian-based rescue organizations, shelters, and groups when they have animals in need of transportation in Canada. They got in touch with founder Gini Green who then contacted volunteer Rick Woodall. The Windsor pilot was surprised when he found out he was transporting a turtle, instead of a dog or cat, but the pilot’s 13-year-old daughter told him he was doing a very good thing to try and save this turtle. The weather was so bad during the flight, on May 10, that the pilot had to circle the airport in Peterborough for ten minutes before he could land. When the turtle finally arrived at the trauma centre, the medical director, Dr. Sue Carstairs, discovered that the animal had so many jaw fractures the normal wiring technique would not work so she used tape to secure each fracture in place in order to heal.

Someone might wonder why so many volunteers offered their concern, time, and resources to protect a single snapping turtle. The answer may rest in the fact the number of turtles and turtle species in Ontario is declining. Slow reproductive rates and low egg and hatchling survivability, combined with threats such as habitat decline, increased predation of eggs by raccoons or skunks, and road mortality, may cause snapping turtle populations to become threatened or endangered if these threats continue. This once-common species is listed as Special Concern under the Ontario Endangered Species Act, 2007 and Special Concern under the federal Species at Risk Act.

Snapping turtles can live to be 70-80 years old, and females do not begin to lay eggs until they are 17 to 19 years old. The likelihood of offspring survival in turtles is very low, which means that a female turtle will have to lay many eggs over the course of her life for just one of her offspring to survive. The loss of one reproducing adult can have significant impacts on the population. 

Snapping turtles have a very small plastron compared to the other turtles. The plastron is the relatively flat part of a turtle shell in the belly area. That makes snapping turtles very vulnerable on land because they can’t retract into their shell for protection. If a turtle is underneath a car and between its tires, the turtle may snap – because that’s their only means of self-defence – and they could get injured or killed this way. “If you can’t pass safely then stop,” Mallett said. “Don’t drive over top of it.”

Mallett is a volunteer with the Port Franks Area Turtle Monitoring Program, a community effort that has been running for three years to monitor turtle numbers and protect them.

Hope Brock, Healthy Watersheds Technician with Ausable Bayfield Conservation, said turtles a vital part of the ecological system in the area. “It is important to know what species are here, in what numbers, and what habitat they are using, so we can help protect them,” she said.

During the spring it is not uncommon to see turtles crossing roads as they come out of hibernation and make their way to their summer habitats. Road encounters become even more frequent in June when females leave their wetland habitats in search of suitable nesting locations. If someone comes upon a turtle crossing a road, they can help it to cross if it is safe to do so, and if they feel comfortable doing this. Smaller turtles can simply be picked up on the sides of their shell and moved across. Snapping turtles require a little more care and should only be handled by the back of its shell (Snapping turtles have surprisingly long necks and may be able to reach back and snap).  Also, never pick up a turtle by their tail as this can damage their spine.  Once a firm grip on the back of the shell is established, depending on the size of the turtle, one can lift or gently drag the turtle to safety.  Blankets, towels, and car mats can also be used to transport the turtle across the road. The important thing to remember when assisting turtles across roads, is to move them in the direction they are headed.

The Port Franks Turtle Monitoring Network teaches volunteers how to properly assist turtles across roads.

An instructional video about safe turtle transport, posted by Toronto Zoo Adopt-a-Pond, is available at:

If you would like to find out more about turtles and how you can help monitor turtle populations and protect these species, contact Hope Brock at Ausable Bayfield Conservation at 519-235-2610 or toll-free 1-888-286-2610 or e-mail


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