The recent deaths of four turtles in Sandy Lake Park in Bedford, N.S., has come as a disappointment for the head of a group that tries to protect them.
Clarence Stevens, president of Nova Scotia's Turtle Patrol, said a hiker came across the four dead turtles and alerted the group last week.
Stevens suspects they were run over by an ATV, and said he believes it was deliberate.
"Nobody accidentally runs over four turtles," said Stevens. "You might accidentally run over one, but your chances of running over four, it's just about impossible."
He said the group is also usually able to tell from tire tracks whether someone swerved to hit the turtle.
Stevens said the Turtle Patrol, one of the nature organizations that forms the Sandy Lake—Sackville River Regional Park Coalition, usually finds evidence of people deliberately running over turtles about once or twice a year. They are usually found on roadsides, he said.
"This is kind of like a worst-case scenario in a park," said Stevens.
Incident happened during nesting season
The dead turtles were found on a trail near Marsh Lake — a breeding area where turtles commonly gather to lay their eggs. This usually happens in Nova Scotia between early June and early July.
Nova Scotia is home to eight species of turtles, all of which are on Canada's registry of species at risk. The Eastern painted turtle, the most common in the province, is considered a species of "special concern."
"Even though they're common, their numbers are really declining," said Stevens. The turtles killed were painted turtles.
The Turtle Patrol had put four years of study into the turtles at Sandy Lake Park, said Stevens.
"We've been watching these turtles for the last four years, keeping track of them … trying to aid them in their survival," he said. "And then just to lose four of them like that, in one day, it's very devastating."
Stevens has reported their deaths to Halifax's parks department. HRM spokesperson Maggie-Jane Spray confirmed in an email that the department is "working to determine additional information as to what occurred."
A chance for education
While the idea of intentionally hitting an animal may seem unfathomable, there's research to suggest it happens more often than people might think.
In 2007, researchers in Ontario conducted a study involving a decoy turtle, a decoy snake, an item often found on the road like a disposable cup, and a control. They placed these items along a 3.6-kilometre causeway and observed how drivers reacted.
"Imitation reptiles were struck by vehicles at a greater rate than would be expected by chance, suggesting some drivers in our study, about 2.7 per cent, intentionally targeted reptiles on the road," the study said. "Several drivers were observed speeding up and positioning their vehicles to hit the reptiles."
Karen Robinson, another member of the Turtle Patrol, said fears and misconceptions about turtles may cause people to do these kinds of things.
"I think it's mostly a lack of knowledge," she said.
"I can't say why someone would do this. But we do know that there is misunderstanding about turtles among some people. Some people just don't really respect wildlife and some people don't have any idea how precious these particular kinds of turtles are."
Robinson believes everyone should take an opportunity to learn more about the province's turtles and what they could to to protect them.
She also said it's important to try to better understand why people might want to deliberately hurt turtles and work from there.
"In order to figure out how to set it right in the long run, we have to figure out what's going wrong. And understanding how people think is part of that," she said.
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