December 7th, 2011
By Ethan Chappell, Aquatic Specialist
How many times have you driven up on someone that is trying to move a turtle off the roadway? Typically in the spring and early summer months, turtles take to the road, quite literally in some cases. Bound by ancient forces far too simple for us to understand, these predecessors to the dinosaurs pack up and go. Sometimes we put things in their way. They don’t care. Risking everything for the sake of reproduction is ‘do or die’ for our reptilian neighbors. As if on a compass bearing they will march straight to their destination or their destruction whichever comes first. That’s where we come in.
I drove into a very dangerous situation just the other day that sparks the age old debate of nature or nurture. A motorist with good intentions had pulled over in order to save a turtle crossing the road. At the base of a blind hill and on a curve, she was standing in the road poking a large snapping turtle with her purple umbrella. Risking her vehicle, her purple umbrella, and her life attempting to save a very unappreciative amphibian with a less than charming disposition, she had created a seriously stressful situation for all parties involved.
Reptiles are cold blooded and while they can be incredibly strong for short periods of time that strength requires a huge expenditure of energy and a long period of recovery afterwards. Their muscles don’t bounce back as quickly as warm blooded animals. After periods of over exertion these animals can be at their most vulnerable to predation and attacks on their immune system. Exertion such as that brought on by staving off assaults from menacing purple umbrellas. The old adage about snapping turtles holding on until the full moon would only hold true if you were bitten during a full moon.
My motorist had chosen to nurture nature. Nature didn’t like it. She was frustrated and so was the turtle. She couldn’t move him and at that point he could no longer walk from exhaustion. “I am just trying to save the stupid thing,” she cried out. I wondered if the irony of those words was clear to her as I quickly ferried the turtle across the road and adjacent fence line to relative safety and left him in peace. With any luck he recovered and made his way to his destination. If not, well that’s nature. I can’t recommend that anyone pick up a snapping turtle. If you do not know how to grab them they can really injure digits and flesh. Not to mention that a turtle of any species can carry diseases like salmonella that can be transmitted to humans.
If you should decide to save a wild animal make sure that you go about doing so in a safe manner. You also want to minimize contact with and stress on the animal. It would defeat the purpose if the stress brought on by your rescue ultimately caused the animals demise. When stressful contact is unavoidable it should be done gently, quickly and calmly. Limiting the time the animal is exposed to people and the stress of contact will allow for the best possible chance that the event will have a positive outcome.
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