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Ecologists want total ban on endangered turtle hunting

By Gilbert Ngabo,
Metro Toronto,
January 18 2017

Tanya Pulfer doesn’t understand why it’s still legal to hunt snapping turtles in Ontario.

“They are species at risk, for God’s sake,” said the Toronto ecologist and conservation science manager at Ontario Nature. “Every study shows they are in sharp decline, so why are we still allowed to hunt them?”

Snapping turtles are a special type of turtles found in different pockets across Ontario’s Great Lakes region. Unlike other turtles, they have a small plastron and cannot withdraw into their shell for protection, so they snap repeatedly to scare predators away.

Pulfer is one of a growing number of voices calling for a national ban on turtle hunting for food. Ontario and Saskatchewan are the only two provinces where it’s legal to hunt snapping turtles.

In Ontario, hunters with regular fishing license are allowed to bag a maximum of two snapping turtles a day in the summer months, despite being listed as endangered species under the provincial and federal Species at Risk Act.

Under mounting pressure from animal rights groups and advocacy organizations like the Ottawa Field Naturalists’ Club, the provincial Ministry of Natural Resources is looking at limiting the hunt. But activists like Pulfer think the proposals don’t go far enough.

“That just flies in the face of conservation efforts. It’s directly against their own policy to preserve nature and its species,” she said.

The biggest threats to the already dwindling population are habitat loss – it takes about 20 years for snapping turtles to reach sexual maturity and reproduction – and road mortality.

But continuing to allow hunting, poaching and persecution of these “remnants of dinosaurs” is like “adding weight onto the broken camel’s back already,” said Pulfer.

Pulfer said other animals at risk such as dolphins or manatees would spark “an uproar” from communities if it were legal to hunt them. That there’s no such upset for snapping turtles is still a mystery to her.

“Maybe it’s because they don’t have cute faces, and they’ve got a little attitude and kind of act like they own the place,” she said. “I don’t know. A lot of people fear snapping turtles, but they really need our protection.”