By Beatrice Toplitsky
INNISFIL – Marianne Froehlich has been doing her part to save the endangered turtle population in Ontario armed with a pair of welder’s gloves and a collection of Tupperware bins.
The semi-retired high school teacher began volunteering with the Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre earlier this year as a turtle taxi driver. She transports injured turtles to the centre in Peterborough – sometimes driving six to nine hours in a day to drop off turtles for emergency care.
Froehlich says her Honda Element is filled with Tupperware cases of all sizes, with holes punched in for oxygen, to accommodate her reptilian passengers.
She’s transported as many as ten turtles at a time, with the animals ranging from the size of a loonie up to some that are 25-30 lbs. Her largest guest so far has been an adult snapping turtle, a species which can grow up to a foot long.
“Unlike painted turtles, who seem quite content to sit in their boxes and be transported, snapping turtles can climb, will climb, and want to get out of the box,” says Froehlich.
“The first snapping turtle that I transported that was of any size, I had to stop every 50km and put it back in the box … I didn’t want him to appear by my feet while I was driving.”
Now, she comes equipped with bungy cords for her larger containers to keep snapping turtles from escaping. Also in her arsenal of turtle gear is a pair of leather welder’s gloves, which come in handy when dealing with feistier turtles that may try to bite.
Some of her calls are from veterinarians who care for the turtles until they can be taken to the rehabilitation centre in Peterborough, while others come from civilians. She often collaborates with other turtle taxi drivers, taking over the final stretch of the journey.
“We’ll meet at a Timmie’s and we’ll do a turtle exchange,” she says. Turtles sometimes pass from one volunteer to another in parking lots so that they can reach the OTCC no matter where in Ontario they are found.
The centre’s education coordinator, Wendy Baggs, says more than 600 turtles have been brought in since April, when the turtles began to emerge from hibernation.
“There’s been times that we see 40 admissions in a day,” says Baggs. The goal is to rehabilitate and release the turtles back into their natural environment.
“A lot of stories of strength and endurance and determination all kind of stem from turtle stories,” she says. Now, the centre hopes to help the population continue to endure, as human development has already lost 70% of Canada’s wetlands.
“I’m an animal fan to begin with, but what I didn’t realize is how at risk our turtle population is,” says Froehlich. Though many people may not find adult turtles as cute as other species, she says they deserve just as much care and protection: “I’ve become such a turtle advocate it’s just nuts!”
Unfortunately, some of the turtles Froehlich transports are dead. Dead turtles are just as important to the conservation effort, she says. Tracking where turtle deaths are happening can lead to petitions for turtle crossing signs or fencing to prevent injuries in the future. During this time of year, many female turtles are also pregnant with eggs, which can be saved even if the mother has passed away.
Not only that, Baggs says it may not always be easy for a layperson to determine if a turtle is really dead. “Their metabolism is so low,” she explains, “Their heart rate can drop down to like one beat every ten minutes when they’re hibernating, so it is difficult to tell.
” Not only that, live turtles can be cold to the touch, which makes it harder to tell when a turtle has died. This means that it’s important to call the centre even if a turtle appears to be dead.
If you find an injured or dead turtle, you can call the OTCC’s emergency response line at 705-741-5000 to ensure that the turtle gets the medical attention it needs. For more information on volunteering as a turtle taxi driver, you can visit https://ontarioturtle.ca/get-involved/volunteer/  or email firstname.lastname@example.org .