Adult western painted turtles basking at Langford Lake.                                 (Photo by Ken Groat)

Adult western painted turtles basking at Langford Lake. (Photo by Ken Groat)

Abandoned pet turtles threatening local species

Western painted turtle last of its species on Island

Rick Stiebel/News Gazette staff

If you’re fed up with your pet whatever you do, don’t hurtle that turtle into a lake, stream or field.

The Habitat Acquisition Trust (HAT) is asking people to make the effort to take unwanted pet turtles to an animal shelter instead of releasing them into Mother Nature’s open arms. The reason is that red-eared sliders and yellowbelly sliders, two species commonly purchased as pets, pose a threat to the western painted turtle, the only remaining species of freshwater turtle on Vancouver Island, explained Paige Erickson-McGee, stewardship co-ordinator for HAT. The native species appear to be painted red to orange on its belly, while turtles with yellow bellies and red ears or a bold yellow stripe on its face are most likely abandoned pets.

Unfortunately, people who release pet turtles into the wild aren’t aware that they can live up to 50 years and wreak considerable havoc through the spread of disease. They also compete with native basking turtles for food and nesting sites, and increase pressure on other species by eating crustaceans, aquatic insects, snails, amphibians and their eggs, Erickson-McGee noted.

The challenge in protecting native species is exacerbated by the fact that more than 80 per cent of pre-colonial wetlands have already been lost, and water quality in existing wetlands has declined as well, she added.

While it was once believed that red-eared sliders – on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s list of 100 worst invaders – were unable to hatch babies in B.C.’s cool northern climate, that is no longer the case. A monitoring of nests in Delta, B.C., as part of a coastal painted turtle project showed evidence of successful hatching.

Coupled with the slider’s lower age of maturity and the effects of global warming, that could provide a reproductive edge in overtaking the local endangered painted turtles, Erickson-McGee said.

The public can play an important role in protecting endangered species by sharing observations and clear photographs of non-native turtles and their nests on southern Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands. Other breeds released in B.C. include the common snapping turtle, map turtle, Reeve’s turtle, European pond terrapin and the abalone – a soft-shelled variety. Please send the photos and information on location to hatmail@hat.bc.ca.

HAT is a non-profit regional land trust and registered charity dedicated to conserving nature on south Vancouver Island. For more information, visit hat.bc.ca.

reporter@goldstreamgazette.com