Written by Sydney Shepherd
I was not a turtle person… no, seriously. Prior to my involvement this summer with the Land Between and Turtle Guardians, my friends and family referred to me as the “Bird Girl”. Everything and anything I did revolved around birds. School projects, volunteering and spare time were all dedicated to birds – oh, and not to mention how often I wiggled fun facts and bird ID into my everyday conversations.
Bird songs have been the soundtrack to my summers. Listening to bird songs now, I am connected to previous time and place. The elusive namesake sound of Eastern Whip-poor-wills and the unmistakable “who-cooks-for-you” hoot of the Barred Owl bring me back to starry nights camping on Georgian Bay. The abrupt morning squabble of Blue Jays never fails to connect me to groggy-eyed wake-ups in a sweaty nylon tent. This intrinsic connection to birds took over once I reached University and was able to pursue my own passions in academia.
But becoming a turtle person, was hard.
I do not have any childhood stories of turtles to share. I honestly cannot even remember a time that I might have interacted with a turtle in the wild until my later years. Without past connection with turtles, I simply brushed off their importance.
I am so grateful I was welcomed to the Road Research Team with Turtle Guardians. As a recent University Grad, I was ready to get out into the world and experience new things, even if those things were outside of my “bird niche”. Within the first few minutes of my first Road Research shift, I finally gained my turtle connection. Xavier, my team mate for the summer, and I came across a couple who were helping a turtle safely cross at a busy four-way intersection. As we approached the couple, thanking them for being a Turtle Hero, and taking the turtle from them to collect valuable scientific data (https://www.thelandbetween.ca/2020/06/tlb-gathers-2000-turtle-eggs-to-incubate/), I was able to see a Blanding’s Turtle up close. Her bright yellow throat, and almost upturned mouth made me feel the same way I do when I look at Golden Retriever Puppies. I then thought about how vulnerable that turtle was, crossing a four-way intersection with loud and large vehicles passing by. I knew, in that moment, I was becoming a turtle person.
The term “charismatic” can be used to sum up the connection experience (Skibins et al. 2013). Individuals are more likely to care about the conservation of species when we can empathize with their emotions (Skibins et al. 2013). Often, these “charismatic” species we empathize with are large mammals such as the Giant Panda, African Elephants and colourful birds (Skibins et al. 2013). In my experience, freshwater turtles have never been at the forefront of my mind as a charismatic species, but, the moment that Blanding’s Turtle was crossing that four-way intersection, I empathized with her. She became charismatic in my mind, and I hope that everyone has their connection moment with an Ontario Turtle!
If you are interested in connecting your family to turtles check out the Turtle Guardians Program Levels and become Wetland Watchers today!
Skibins, Jeffrey C., et al. “Charisma and Conservation: Charismatic Megafauna’s Influence on Safari and Zoo Tourists’ pro-Conservation Behaviors.” Biodiversity and Conservation, vol. 22, no. 4, 2013, pp. 959–982., doi:10.1007/s10531-013-0462-z.