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Pitching In To Help Threatened Reptiles
  by Gregor Beck  
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Photos by Gregor Beck
Blanding Turtle Hatchling
Eastern Foxsnake

Port Rowan, ON: Over the last few years, hundreds of volunteers and dozens of landowners have been reaching out to help conserve the reptiles of the Carolinian Region. Many of these conservation-minded community members have been lending a hand by participating in Long Point Basin Land Trust's (LPBLT) Conserving Carolinian Reptiles project, which has the goals of protecting local turtle and snake populations and engaging the public in conservation actions. The project is critically important since six of seven turtle species and half of the dozen snake species in the area are listed species at risk.

"Reptiles are among the most threatened wildlife in the region," said Gregor Beck, LPBLT's director of conservation science. "LPBLT's Conserving Carolinian Reptiles project is in its sixth year now and we're really excited how the initiative has grown. Over 350 volunteers have participated by helping with on-the-ground conservation efforts and by reporting their reptile sightings. By submitting reptile sightings, volunteers are helping us learn more about these ancient creatures, and helping us plan effective, locally-tailored conservation solutions."

With strong community support, the Conserving Carolinian Reptiles project has been helping turtles and snakes for six years. Highlights include:

  • By the end of 2013, project participants had reported observations of over 4,400 turtles and snakes, helping biologists plan effective conservation actions;
  • 427 instances of reptiles being protected from vehicle strikes, including protection for 237 at-risk reptiles;
  • installation of 60 reptile habitat features, such as turtle nesting structures and savanna habitat restoration, with documented use of habitats by many reptiles;
  • over 80% reduction in road mortality of reptiles at Long Point Provincial Park as a result of the installation the seasonal wildlife barrier; and,
  • increased participation by volunteers in conservation actions that help reptiles. Results of a survey of 20 project participants indicate that: 100% of participants gained increased knowledge of species and habitats at risk; 75% increased their personal actions that benefit reptiles; and, 75% increased their actions to benefit other species at risk and biodiversity in general.

"The project's success in helping turtles and snakes is a testament to the hundreds of community volunteers and landowners who believe in the importance of protecting the diverse flora and fauna of our region," noted Beck. "The Land Trust thanks these volunteers, partners, visitors and landowners who help our native wildlife on a daily basis. This is a great example of neighbours helping our wildlife neighbours and species at risk!"

The Long Point Basin is home to 19 species of reptiles, including 12 snake species and 7 turtle species. Six of seven turtle species and half of the dozen snakes in the Long Point Basin are listed as species at risk. The Long Point Basin includes Norfolk County, western Haldimand County, eastern Elgin County, and adjoining parts of Oxford and Brant Counties. The area is in the heart of the biologically-diverse Carolinian Region of Canada.

While some wildlife species may bite if they are disturbed, none of the extant native reptile species in the Long Point Basin are harmful to humans. Some local snake species, though, are known to mimic venomous snakes. For example, the Eastern Foxsnake, Milksnake and Gray Ratsnake may vibrate their tails as a defence strategy. The Eastern Hog-nosed Snake sometimes puts on elaborate defence strategies also, spreading its neck wide, puffing itself up, and even rolling over and 'playing dead'. These species are harmless to humans and perform vital services ecologically and for people - for example, by controlling rodent populations. For more information about reptiles of the Long Point Basin and Ontario, please visit www.LongPointLandTrust.ca The Land Trust website contains numerous free resources about conservation and reptiles, including factsheets and videos.

In the photos: Blanding's Turtle (Threatened) 2011 hatchling. Note yellow throat, faint spots and domed shell. Eastern Foxsnake (Endangered) is non-venomous and harmless to humans, but may vibrate its tail. The Eastern Foxsnake is adept at catching mice, and is excellent at rodent control.

Quick tips to help reptiles:

  • Drive carefully and watch for wildlife on roads. Slow down near natural areas, such as woodlands and wetlands.
  • Be especially watchful in early summer when females seek nesting locations, and in early fall when young emerge.
  • Boat slowly near wetlands and in shallow water areas to avoid collisions with reptiles.
  • Protect and restore natural habitats, including hedgerows, buffer strips along streams, woodlands and wetlands.
  • Report suspected poaching of reptiles, or other illegal activities, to the OMNR TIPS line: 1-877-TIPS-MNR (1-877-847-7667)
  • You can help LPBLT learn more about the status of local reptile populations and plan effective, locally-tailored conservation programs, by reporting your observations of reptiles.

LPBLT encourages the public to help further by reporting their turtle and snake sightings to: www.LongPointLandTrust.ca

Long Point Basin Land Trust (LPBLT) is a charitable non-government organization which protects and restores important natural habitats in the Carolinian Region. LPBLT promotes conservation through outreach, research, habitat restoration and species at risk recovery. The Land Trust owns five nature reserves and works with landowners and conservation groups to steward natural areas. This project is undertaken with the financial support of the Government of Canada through the federal Department of the Environment, the John & Pat McCutcheon Charitable Foundation, individuals and partners. Assistance for this project was provided by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources.


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