Want to Work With Wildlife?


We talk with David Seburn, Freshwater Turtle Biologist at CWF

Freshwater turtles need a lot of help. At this point, all eight species of freshwater turtles in Canada are At-risk. Luckily, David Seburn is hard at work trying to save them! And part of saving them includes taking care of teeny tiny baby turtles. Are you jealous yet? Want to follow in his footsteps? Keep reading!

David, you work at the Canadian Wildlife Federation working to save Canada’s freshwater turtles. Why turtles?

D.S.: Turtles as a group have been around since the age of the dinosaurs, which is pretty amazing. The dinosaurs went extinct, but turtles survived. Unfortunat­ely, now our turtles are declining, and all eight species of freshwater turtles in Canada are species At-risk. This makes turtles the most at risk group of wildlife in Canada. They need all the help they can get!

The main threats that turtles face in Canada are:

1. Loss of wetlands. Many wetlands continue to be drained so people can use the land. When you drain a wetland, it destroys the habitat for turtles and many other species.

2. Road mortality (when turtles

are hit by cars). Unfortunat­ely, many turtles also get killed on roads every year. Over the past two years, our surveys in eastern Ontario have found over 1,000 dead turtles on roads!

3. High rates of nest predation (when turtle eggs are eaten by animals). Even if a female turtle finds a place to lay her eggs, there is a good chance those eggs will be eaten by a nest predator, such as a raccoon. It is normal for predators to get some nests, but in many areas, the predators get more than half of all turtle nests that are laid.

How are you going about trying to save the freshwater turtles in Canada?

D.S.: We have been doing surveys for the Blanding’s Turtle, an Endangered species in Canada. When we find a new location with Blanding’s Turtles, this adds protection for that wetland and all the other species that live there. We have also been working to find roads where turtles are getting hit by cars. We then work with the government to try to get wildlife fencing put up to keep turtles off roads. This helps to keep drivers and turtles safe. We are also working to help turtle population­s by collecting turtle nests, incubating the eggs (keeping them nice and warm) and then releasing the hatchlings back into the wild. We know that over half of turtle nests get eaten by predators, so by incubating the eggs, we are saving all of these eggs that would otherwise be eaten. Last year, we released almost 400 hatchlings back into nature. That was incredibly exciting and rewarding!

How can people make a difference for turtles? D.S.: If you are out driving with your parents, you can watch for turtles on roads. Pay close attention in June, which is the main nesting season for turtles, and when you are driving near water — lakes, rivers and wetlands. If you see a turtle on the road, you and your parents can move it off the road, if it is safe to do so. Never go onto a road to help a turtle without an adult’s help. Always move a turtle in the direction that it is going, as it knows where it wants to go.

If one of our WILD readers wanted to work with turtles when they grow up, what should they study in school?

D.S.: It is always good to take courses in biology, ecology or conservati­on when you get a chance. That’s not always easy to do in some grades, but sometimes you can at least do a project on wildlife topics. I also recommend joining a local nature club for kids if there is one nearby. It is also a great idea to volunteer at a wildlife rehab centre that takes care of turtles so you can get hands-on experience.

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