Grace, is an ancient snapping turtle, whose hibernation site is near the Haliburton Highlands Secondary School and feeding grounds extend across 2 lakes at over 40km radius and across busy roads including Highway 118 in Haliburton County.
Grace is likely over 125 years old judging by her carapace (upper shell) size, and could be as old as 200 years according to scientific studies (Armstrong and Brooks). She is the largest turtle we, at Turtle Guardians, have had the honour of meeting in the county. She is 39cm, which is very close to the record size found in this area of Ontario that we know of at 42cm.
Grace is not only notable because of her size, but she is missing her right eye. Grace is named for the absolute miracle of her longevity and existence without significant injury or death in this busy area of roads and boats.
We first encountered and rescued Grace in the late summer and early fall of 2020. First Grace was sitting just by a main road in front of the Highschool. She was found by a champion volunteer named Jack (pictures above). She was also situated right in front of many school buses, which were all lined up behind her, readying to take students back home. Therefore, the school called us to “move her”. And it took two of us to oblige. We moved her in the direction she was facing, and took her about carefully about 700 metres to Kashagawigamog Lake. We believed she may be hibernating in that area. She did not seem to desire to get into the water, but this lake was certainly within her territory, and it was a safer place for her to be.
However, the following week we received a call in the evening from someone who had spotted her while walking their two large dogs. This time Grace was in front of the elementary school facing the opposite direction from the previous week. Well, we were obviously mistaken about her chosen hibernation site being the lake. In order to move her, we commissioned a wheel barrow because Grace is very heavy. We wheeled her across the driveway and parking lot to the closest wetland – a small pocket wetland about 200 metres from her current location, and voila, she seemed at once comfortable and eager to get into the water there. Turtles hibernate in waters that are stable; in other words, where water levels will not fluctuate. They also hibernate within 1 metre of where they hibernated in previous years.
The onset of warm weather reminded us of Grace- that she might also emerge early and be found on the roads. Therefore, we urgently put out a Facebook post to alert community members in Haliburton about Grace, including a note about what to do if she was spotted (take a picture, text us and to simply “coach her” in the direction she is headed instead of trying to lift her, because she is very heavy, and certainly should never be lifted by the tail).
We have been so amazed as the post has reached 61830 views and has been shared 890 times. and including by the Canadian Environmental Law Society!
While we are pleased because all the attention brings hope that people will watch out for Grace so that she can continue to live well amongst us for at least another fifty years, Grace is not the only turtle needing both our vigilance and kindness- and she is also not the only older turtle around. In fact, since the Facebook post just last week, we have received reports of two other massive snapping turtles in Haliburton county, and one which would measure larger than Grace and therefore be her senior. And we want to help Grace and all turtles across the region survive. Therefore we have launched new programs and efforts; we have identified key high mortality sites where turtles need our help. At these sites we will be installing temporary silt fencing to “slow turtles reaching roads” and at the same time staffing the sites with amazing volunteers who will help both record sightings and help these shelled friends cross the roads. The data collected will help us assess mitigation measures such as turtle tunnels, the need for speed bumps, and signs, as well as other options. Both Haliburton County and Peterborough County road departments are also onside, and have issued us road occupancy permits. And in Peterborough, Parks Canada is partnering with us to facilitate these research and rescue efforts.
Now we are trying to raise funds to pay for high visibility vests, signage to bookend key sites and keep drivers, volunteers and turtles safe, and for silt fencing. We have launched a GoFundMe Campaign to support these efforts, which has been inspired by Grace, and is entitled Saving Grace. Please consider supporting our efforts by donating: gf.me/u/zqj6zp