Kelly Wallace, managing director of the Think Turtle Conservation Initiative, with a snapping turtle. The snapping turtle won the TVO Ontario’s Official Unofficial Animal contest, according to an article on TVO.org on Oct. 11. Although it faced fierce competition from many other animals vying for the honour, it won in a last round face-off against the Loon.Kelly Wallace

Original Published on Oct 26, 2022 at 11:49

By Michael Riley, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The snapping turtle won the TVO Ontario’s Official Unofficial Animal contest, according to an article on TVO.org on Oct. 11. Although it faced fierce competition from many other animals vying for the honour, the snapping turtle won in a last round face-off against the Loon. Graeme Bayliss, editor in chief of TVO.org and Kelly Wallace, managing director of the Think Turtle Conservation Initiative, comment on this accolade.

Starting back in the summer, TVO began profiling the diverse group of animals that were in the running to become Ontario’s Official Unofficial Animal. These were; the lynx, the beaver, the peregrine falcon, the polar bear, the moose, the black bear, the little brown bat, the loon, the caribou, the monarch butterfly, the blue jay, the Algonquin wolf, the snapping turtle, the otter, the raccoon and the bullfrog.

The final voting period began on Oct. 7 and ended on Oct. 10, and was between the loon and the snapping turtle. When the dust had settled, the snapping turtle emerged (slowly of course) as the winner, with 56.6 per cent of the vote, versus 43.4 per cent for the loon.

Wallace broke the news of the snapping turtle’s triumph in an email to the Think Turtle Conservation Initiative membership on Oct. 11, saying they were of course thrilled by the outcome and thanked TVO for having the contest and adding the option to vote by email.

“We have a deep appreciation for each of the 16 animals featured in the contest. It has been a great contest and generated a lot of interest and awareness for each animal species featured,” she said in the email.

Bayliss reveals that he is the one who came up with the idea for the contest.

“I thought the contest would be a good way not only to highlight some of the incredible wildlife we have in this province, but also to remind readers of the real threats that so many species face,” he says.

Bayliss said that in terms of the snapping turtle’s victory, no one was as surprised as he was. He said the snapping turtle was a late addition to the contest, included after a spirited discussion in the newsroom, and he admits that he was personally rooting for the raccoon.

“But seeing the way that so many people and organizations came together to back the snapping turtle turned me around. It was actually kind of moving. I still love the raccoon, but the snapping turtle wanted it more (or at least its supporters did),” he says.

Founded in 2018, the Think Turtle Conservation Initiative is an award-winning volunteer group seeking to educate, raise awareness and engage in species recovery efforts to effectively help turtles native and non-native to Ontario.

Wallace tells Bancroft This Week that the snapping turtle winning this contest is a win for Ontario turtles and made extra special by the fact that the “turtle with the bad reputation” is the turtle species that pulled off the win. She said it’s a time of reckoning for a turtle species that has been grossly misunderstood and could use some time in the spotlight so people can really get to know the real snapping turtle.

“The Think Turtle team knows the snapping turtle to be a champion at heart and an animal most deserving of this honour. Are we biased? You bet, but not without good reason. Over the years, having assisted snapping turtles across roads, engaged in all manner of rescues, helped injured snapping turtles, protected their nests, released hatchlings and spent time with snapping turtles in their natural habitat, it is hard not to be a fan of this turtle species,” she says.

Wallace explains that snapping turtles have suffered many injustices over the years as a result of exaggerated tales and misinformation, like their name, being on Ontario’s game list for many years and the overall misconception of the snapping turtle as just its proclivity to snap at people and other animals that come too close to make it feel threatened.

“People forget that when we approach most any animal in the wild, we know we intend no harm towards that animal but the animal does not know that and sees us as a predator. Under such circumstances, most any animal, even the cute ones, will seek to protect themselves if need be. Most animals will retreat from a confrontation. Animals that are swift will flee the scene. Birds feeling threatened will fly away and fish will swim away. Turtles either pull their limbs into their shell to protect themselves or do their best to retreat from the encounter, albeit slowly,” she says.

Wallace says that the snapping turtle cannot retreat into its shell and has no choice when threatened but to lash out as a defence mechanism. They do not go after people and attack them. They should be respected and left alone as any wild animal should be.

“There is more that could be said, but lastly, the plight of the snapping turtle is not truly realized by some people thinking the turtle populations are plentiful. Not everyone realizes that snapping turtles are federally and provincially designated species at risk and a species in crisis. This is due to road mortality, habitat loss, poaching, pollution and climate change. These factors along with others contribute to population declines that are hard felt by the snapping turtle and the other seven turtle species Ontario is home to. With snapping turtles taking upwards of 17 to 20 years to reach sexual maturity and the survival rate for turtle nests and hatchlings being less than one per cent, this turtle species cannot sustain losses to any degree,” she says.

More and more people are understanding the true nature of the snapping turtle thanks to ongoing education and awareness initiatives, according to Wallace, and she says that a positive takeaway from the TVO contest. She says that for the snapping turtle to win the popular vote over the otter, raccoon, Algonquin wolf and loon as selected by Ontarians, it will hopefully give cause for other people to see the snapping turtle in a new light.

“Moving forward, Think Turtle and other individuals and groups engaged in turtle conservation throughout Ontario will forge on increasing awareness in hopes of connecting with people that have misgivings about this turtle species. It is through education and discussions that people will better understand the prehistoric legacy of the snapping turtle and the ecological services they provide as part of a long-term goal to inspire more efforts to help protect the snapping turtles and other turtles from the threat of extinction,” she says. “If anyone has questions about the snapping turtle or other turtle related matters, please contact Kelly at Think Turtle Conservation Initiative at 647-606-9537 or through the Think Turtle website at www.thinkturtle.ca.”

This item reprinted with permission from   The Bancroft Times   Bancroft, Ontario

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