Our original pair of ambassador turtles, Shelley and Lady, have been with us since 2003. Over the years, we’ve added another three turtles – Lou, Elmira, and Sammie – to our aquarium in the MacEwan Field Station.
Turtles have a reputation for being slow, but our team of turtles are constantly moving around their aquarium, gliding across the glass walls in search of snacks. Their lives here at Riverwood have been eventful, to say the least. They have met thousands of students from Peel Region and beyond through their roles as teaching turtles. “Turtle Time” is an essential part of many of our Education Naturally programs. Students get to touch and interact with the turtles while learning about the importance of taking care of their own pets at home and stopping the spread of invasive species.
When the news hit back in March that The Riverwood Conservancy would have to close its buildings due to COVID-19, one of the first questions that came up in a staff meeting was, “what happens to the turtles?” Emails were flying, Zoom meetings centered on conversations about the turtles’ wellbeing, and some of us felt helpless as no one had the ability to house our five adult red-eared sliders.
Then those turtles batted their bright green eyes at me and convinced me to take them home. It wouldn’t be that much work, right?
I was running out of things to do at home after baking chocolate chip cookies from 25 different recipes, cleaning the house three times a day, and watching terrible rom-coms on Netflix. I thought it might be nice to have a friend – or five!
My family and I built a makeshift indoor pond and land area in our basement. We sectioned off a large area using sheets of hard plastic, and covered half of it with pond liner we had from a previous project. The turtles also have a matted area where they can come out and explore. They were suspicious of this area at the start but now bump around like they own the place! An old window screen and some bricks serve as makeshift bridge between the land and pond areas, so they can come and go as they please.
I always knew that each turtle had unique personalities and behaviours, just like humans! I must believe this is why our teachers grow such a close attachment to them. It wasn’t until I brought them into my house, however, that I could understand the extent of their temperaments. And now I feel like a crazy turtle lady, speaking to turtles in my basement in the middle of the night, and calling them by name if they misbehave.
It’s been a unique experience for me and the turtles, and while it’s been great having them at home, I think we’re all looking forward to being back in the MacEwan Field Station so we can once again share a small piece of the natural world with our students, when it’s safe to do so of course.