What’s up with turtles in Kelowna?

Turtle advocates issuing warnings

Western Painted Turtles have recently gained attention in Kelowna due to various issues affecting their population.

There’s been reports of people capturing these turtles as pets, and the annual nesting season has resulted in increased road crossings, raising concerns among wildlife conservationists and organizations such as Okanagan Turtle Adoptions.

The Western Painted Turtle holds significant importance in the Kelowna ecosystem. In the Okanagan, they are classified as blue-listed, indicating their vulnerability. They are endangered in the Lower Mainland.

Despite the abundance of Western Painted Turtles in Kelowna, their overall population remains relatively small. However, the Central Okanagan is home to one of the highest concentrations of these turtles in the province.

Justin DeMerchant, from the Okanagan Turtle Adoption Program, told Kelowna10 there has been issues of people releasing pet turtles - such as red-eared sliders - into the wild, where they don’t belong.

“They've lost a lot of their wild instincts being bred in captivity for so long. And they're also not adapted to our climate. It's also too cold for them here,” he explained. “When you release your pet turtle into the wild, it's just going to get sick and it's not going to be very happy. Whereas the Western Painted Turtles, they are adapted to the cold, adapted to our climates and they are wild turtles. They're not pets.”

His advice to anyone who can’t take care of their domestic turtle is to re-home it, as its bad for them, along with the environment, and overall cruel.

“That's what my organization does. We take in pet turtles. We find them new homes where they're going to be properly cared for,” DeMerchant said. “But sometimes it's not easy to do in a hurry. We often have a little bit of a waiting list, so you can always rehome your turtles on your own. But be aware that there's also people who might want to adopt your turtle who aren't prepared to take proper care of it or themselves might want to release it into the lake.”

The increased turtle crossing signs are important for the month of May and June, as this is when the turtles are coming out to nest and drivers should be aware of any turtles on the road and slow down.

DeMerchant’s big piece of advice to residents is respect the turtles' habitats and avoid disturbing them.

“Keep your distance, be respectful that this is this is their environment and view them from afar,” he said. “Don't get too close to them. Don't disturb them. Don't try to catch them. Don't get really close to them with your smartphone to try to get a good picture.”

Published 2023-06-06 by Connor Chan

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