01/28/2015 02:53 EST | Updated 03/30/2015 05:59 EDT

Toronto Zoo, Crime Stoppers campaign sheds light on turtle trafficking

The Toronto Zoo and Crime Stoppers launched a campaign this week aimed at educating people to help put an end to illegal turtle trade.

 “Given the length of time most turtles take to mature and reproduce, taking even one turtle from the wild can hurt the entire population,” the organizations said in a release.

Turtle trafficking is part of the global illegal wildlife trade estimated to be worth as much as $30 billion a year, the organizations said.

“The illegal trade of wildlife is the fourth most lucrative criminal activity worldwide, only exceeded by the trade of narcotics, counterfeiting and human trafficking", says David Forster, president of the Ontario Association of Crime Stoppers.

In Ontario, seven of the eight turtle species are at risk. Rare turtles in the province, such as wood turtles, spotted turtles and Blanding’s turtles, are prized by collectors, the organizations said. Other species, such as snapping turtles, are also wanted for food.

Other factors threatening turtles include the loss of habit, collisions with cars, as well as predators such as skunks and raccoons that eat their eggs.

Residents can get involved in the campaign by:

- Report sightings of turtles you see in the wild to Ontario Turtle Tally. The data will be used to map species’ locations across the province and help authorities and biologists identify areas where at-risk populations live.

- Call Crime Stoppers anonymously at 1-800-222-TIPS(8477) or call the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry tip line at 1-877-847-7667.

- Spread the word to educate people that taking threatened animals from the wild is illegal.

- Watch for suspicious activities in natural areas, such as off-trail activities, overnight parking or anglers carrying unusual equipment like snares or a large number of buckets.