The Montreal Biodome is helping a threatened species get back on track in Quebec: the wood turtle.
Reptile care technician Linda Paetow is raising 48 babies to be released into the wild when the time comes.
In collaboration with Quebec’s Forests, Fauna and Parks Ministry, the program has introduced over 200 turtles to the habitat in the last eight years.
“The wood turtles are curious animals, they learn quickly,” Paetow described, pointing out the vibrant orange colouring on its legs and face.
To keep track of who’s who, a coloured thread looped through the turtles’ scales helps identify them.
Health records are kept of their weight and size to ensure their growth.
“You can see individual growth rings on the scales of its back,” Paetow explained.
When they have the growth rings of a healthy two-year-old, they get ready to go free — but not without some training first.
“We’re also working on a kind of boot camp for them,” said Biodome conservation officer Gheylen Daghfous.
The omnivores bulk up on worms and a colourful buffet of veggies, hard-boiled eggs for protein and even a bit of dog chow.
Meanwhile, caretakers do their best to acclimate the turtles to the wild before release.
“They’re not shy like other species and will not jump into the water as soon as they see someone,” Gheylen said.
That’s one of the reasons wood turtles are a threatened species — but Gheylen says the program is helping them survive.
“Just by looking at their survival rate, I think we’re [making] a difference.”