Reptile research group reaches out to local community to help fund research to preserve endangered species

A southwestern Ontario-based reptile research and recovery program is asking for community support to fund their research to protect endangered wildlife.

Southern Ontario At Risk Reptiles (SOARR) preserves declining reptile populations by removing turtle nests from environments where they are damaged by human activity or climatic events, repairing those habitats, and releasing them back into the wild.

SOARR senior biologist Scott Gillingwater says that since turtles take several years to mature, the next decade is important to see how the species can be saved. But due to lack of funding from the province, recovery efforts are struggling during their most crucial time.

“We are at a crossroads, the next 10 years are critical for these species, but we face government funding that is unpredictable or unavailable at all,” he said.

“We won’t know the outcome until they have matured and laid their own eggs, so only after that can we better assess how we did and what the next steps will be.”

Scott Gillingwater has been with SOARR since its inception in 1994 and wants to continue wildlife protection efforts. (Submitted)

The core program was started by the Upper Thames River Conservation Authority in 1994 to study the region’s popular spiny softshell turtle, and since then it has worked with a large number of threatened and endangered reptiles.

Increase in threats over time

According to Gillingwater, threats to wildlife are only increasing over time due to increasing urbanization and human activities that lead to habitat loss.

“Human persecution is quite a problem for these species at risk, and it leaves the reptiles with fewer opportunities to be protected where they are,” he said.

Incubators full of eggs at the SOARR lab (Submitted by Scott Gillingwater)

Gillingwater also believes there needs to be legislation that prioritizes these species and their survival as it is difficult to destroy and rebuild habitats elsewhere.

“There are a lot of buildings and infrastructure for humans that take precedence over species and we have to consider them and the habitats in which they exist,” he said.

A spokesperson for the Department of Environment, Conservation and Parks told CBC that because of the importance of wildlife protection, they have continued to fund conservation programs.

“I know that protecting species at risk is important to all Ontarians, which is why we have continued to fund this program each year. I look forward to continued partnerships in the future,” the statement read.

A large ecosystem

Gillingwater says the survival of reptiles is just as important to humans because all species depend on the same ecosystem, and preserving it is in everyone’s interest.

“If we see red flags going up, obviously those situations can impact humans, but we can’t always see them through human scope,” he said. “We have to realize that the ecosystem has to function in a robust and healthy way.”

While SOARR has received ongoing funding from the ministry since 2007, Gillingwater says the government has been slow to let groups know that qualified for funding, and they were not notified until their research was complete.

The ministry said it received about 83 applications, all of which were double the program’s budget, and their decision was made with the help of more than 30 conservation experts.

A few turtles spotted in their natural habitats. (Submitted by Scott Gillingwater)

Gillingwater says that over the years SOARR’s work has been able to help save various reptile populations and has helped build a sustainable habitat for them, and by continuing this they can help many more.

“It’s impacting our local communities and cities, and right now we need community involvement to make sure that when our future generations grow up, we’ll still have these species around,” he said. he declares.

Information on how to donate for research can be found on the Conservation Authority’s website.