Sat. Mar 2nd, 2024
Love at first sight;  Caring for Spike at Emily Provincial Park

In our “Behind the Scenes” series, Discovery Program staff from across the province share a behind-the-scenes look at their favorite shows and projects. Today’s post comes from Rosemary Minns of Emily Provincial Park.

Emily Provincial Park is a lovely place. Lots of fishing piers, swimming beaches, and great camping spots. He was very excited to work as a Discovery student on Emily. There was a downside to this job…

…I had to learn how to care for a snapping turtle.

With this being my third year as a Discovery student at Ontario Parks, I’ve become accustomed to many different wildlife species, but I can say that at the beginning of this year I wasn’t particularly excited about caring for a snapping turtle.

Spike’s long journey to Emily

Now, I’m sure you’re all thinking that in Ontario, it’s illegal to keep wild animals as pets.

So why does a provincial park have a snapping turtle?

Unfortunately, Spike was taken from the wild when he was about the size of a toonie (probably his first year out of the egg). Someone saw him and decided to keep him as a pet.

Baby snapping turtle.A snapping turtle hatchling emerging from the nest

They had him as a pet for about four years.

During this time, Spike became accustomed to the human world. His owners fed him and he had no predators in his tank.

Because of this, if Spike were returned to the wild, he would not be able to care for himself.

Spike photo.

When the conservation officer found him, he needed to go to a permanent home. A place that could take care of him for the rest of his days. So we decided we would love to have it here in Emily! That was a few years ago now and it has been a fantastic addition to the park family.

Love at first sight

The staff feeds Spike.Rosemary feeds Spike for the first time

It didn’t take long for this little reptile to find a soft spot in my heart. My first week at Emily, I was tasked with feeding Spike.

My supervisor explained to me the steps to feed him. Ten mealworms and some vegetables on Mondays and Wednesdays (whether you eat vegetables or not!) and five large mice on Fridays, all to ensure you receive a balanced diet.

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“Always remember to get his attention before throwing food into the water or he won’t go after it,” she explained. “Oh, and if Spike bites down on the claws by accident, give him a minute, he’ll realize that he can’t eat them and he’ll let them go.”

I watched, took notes, and then it was my turn.

Mealworm.Mealworm, also known as Spike meal.

As Spike bit into the worm and swallowed it whole, I knew it was going to be a great friendship.

Feeding him became a fun little task each week, and it was time I could spend growing our friendship. It may have been just food to him, but to me it was so much more.

Flip this pond

Spike is very lucky.

It has a beautiful enclosure inside and outside the park office. The inner tank has a fancy new filtration system, which he loves! (You may have played with the old one and broken it.) This is where he spends his time at night, in winters and when we feed him. It has a tank full of water for him to swim in and a heat lamp for him to lie on when he’s cold.

Spike enjoying the log.Spike enjoying his favorite outdoor spot.

Their outdoor enclosure is something like their summer home. It has a large pool for you to swim in and plenty of space to sunbathe. It spends most of its summer days in its outdoor enclosure, where campers can come and check it out.

But Spike’s outdoor enclosure didn’t always look spectacular.

At the beginning of summer it seemed a little gloomy. The winter had taken its toll and moved the rocks, collapsing the pond. So the Discovery staff got to work renovating Spike’s summer house.

Staff repairing Spike's tank.

We started by digging around the pool to get it out. We gave it a good scrubbing, so it came out nice and clean. Then we had to dig deep to get the pool to fit again. We filled the area around it with stones and soil and finally filled it with clean, fresh water.

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Just like that, the outdoor enclosure was ready for a happy turtle!

Spike the star of education

Rosemary and Spike.Spike has become kind of a star in Emily and I’m his assistant.

It plays a vital role in educating visitors about the importance of turtles in our waterways and teaching others how to safely move turtles across the road during nesting season.

Every June, we host school groups from Durham and the Kawarthas and give them the opportunity to go fishing, play games, and have a very special turtle talk with Spike and the staff.

During July and August, you can see Spike every Saturday in our park tent in front of a crowd of campers.

Spike whispers in my ear and then I tell the campers what he said. I talk about the importance of turtles in Ontario while Spike captures their love with his brilliant presence.

Why we love Spike

When Spike and I stand in front of a large crowd of campers, smiling broadly, I get a sense of joy that they are learning and understanding that these creatures are no threat to us. That we must help them as much as we can to ensure their safety.

Peak in the grass.

Every turtle talk I do with Spike ends in a demonstration of how we can help turtles cross the treacherous paths ahead. I describe the details of how the number of turtles in Ontario is declining and how they need our help to stay alive. Campers set out with the responsibility of helping the turtles around them and informing others to do the same.

Staff showing the public how to hold a turtle.Hold them like a hamburger! Both hands on the back to ensure a good grip and nothing comes off. PLUS, your fingers will stay out of reach of their mouths.

Although Spike was unjustly taken from the wild, his journey helps Emily’s staff and campers become more aware of the environment around them and support it as much as they can.

Spike holds the hearts of many campers and staff, and is and will always be an essential member of the Emily Provincial Park family.

If you ever see a turtle laying eggs, please let a staff member know! Many parks have turtle nest protection programs to keep predators such as skunks and raccoons away from the site.

You can also document your sightings using the iNaturalist app to help us learn more about their movements within the park!