Turtle crossing! Risks and rewards of helping reptilian travelers

Photo via Turtlerescueleague.com

Photo via Turtlerescueleague.com

Turtle rescues are trending on social media, and there is a logical reason for that. This time of year, turtles are on the move. Their missions often involve traveling long distances and traversing dangerous terrain. Then there’s us — many of us just can’t resist helping a vulnerable animal. The following includes things to consider prior to attempting your next turtle rescue.

As I mentioned, over the past several weeks, I’ve seen untold posts (the best ones punctuated by human-turtle selfies) about people picking up doom-destined turtles attempting to cross busy streets.

I hold that these #turtlebrags saved at least one reptilian life.

A meme that's now making its way around the interwebs

A meme that’s now making its way around the interwebs

I never should have seen that turtle in the middle lane of westbound Forest last Sunday at dusk, but I guess, thanks to prolific Facebook postings about them, turtles were on my radar.

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“That leaf is moving weirdly,” I thought, before realizing it was an actual living thing headed straight for splatter city. Initially I assessed the situation as hopeless — five cars were approaching from behind, and the turtle was on the dividing line now. Almost instinctively, but with a dash of analytical consideration, I flipped on my hazard lights and straddled the line with my Jeep. Cars swerved around mine sans incident. At the all clear, I jumped out and grabbed the wee walker from underneath my car and delivered him, facing the creek, to a roadside grassy patch before darting back to my car. (My return was met with a baffled and incredulous stare from my dog).

Had it been a busier time of day, different decisions might have been made. It would be dumb to risk a traffic accident for a turtle. This forum lists several accidents, some fatal, caused by people stopping for turtles and other wildlife. (Another bad wreck that started with a turtle crossing.)

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However, if you are able to do so safely, help that turtle. Think about what Harvey Bird of the Metropolitan Herpetological Society blog has to say about it:

“Some may call it crazy, but there is something special about a turtle following its innate instinct to find a place that will provide her eggs with the best possible chance of survival.”

Turtle crossings are most common between April and October, according to the league, for several reasons.

“In the spring, male turtles look for females and territory to call their own, while females look for places to nest. During the late summer and fall, hatchling turtles are digging up from nests, looking for water and later on males and females are heading to places to hibernate. Sometimes they are migrating to a more suitable spot to live.”

And, just look how wonderful they are (I shot the below Instagram clip in a Lake Highlands business park).

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My procedure at Forest-Audelia violated the rules of turtle rescue, which, according to the Turtle Rescue League, dictate pulling “fully off the road” before attempting the rescue. (Had I not shielded the turtle with my vehicle in this case, though, he would have been a definite goner.)

I made other mistakes. For example, experts instruct to place the turtle facing the direction she was traveling. Here are more tips for rescuing those turtles, according to the TRL:

First, be safe, while helping the turtle, busy streets are dangerous for would be rescuers and turtles alike. Put on your hazard lights and pull fully off the road. Make sure other drivers see you, before stepping onto a road.

When picking up a small turtle, grasp it on either side of its shell behind the front legs. The turtle will still be able to kick at you, but many will choose to stay safely tucked in, during the short time you are moving them.

Keep the turtle low to the ground when moving them. Even small turtles have surprising strength. If a turtle pushes free of your grip, you do not want it to fall and injure itself.

If the turtle is large (with a long tail), it may be a snapping turtle, they can be a bit aggressive and you might not want to attempt picking it up, but you can still help it across the road.

Never ever grab a turtle by the tail because it can injure them very badly.

If you are helping a large snapper, simply push it from behind with a blunt object, don’t use anything sharp or pokey, you don’t want to hurt the turtle. Although snappers can seem dangerous, they are just protecting the babies they are carrying, like any wild animal, you need to exercise caution.

Make sure to put the turtle in the direction it was heading. The turtle is on a mission, and if you turn it around, it will simply go back across the road when you drive away.

Once you have the turtle across the road, you can sit and watch to make sure it is heading off and not turning back around.

You can feel great that the turtle you helped is a member of one of the longest-living species on earth.

Although you may be tempted to relocate a turtle, don’t. Many turtles have territories they call home, and when relocated, they will seek out ways back. Besides risking many additional road crossings, some turtles, if they cannot find their way back will stop eating and just wander listlessly.

By |2015-05-19T15:49:30-05:00May 19th, 2015|News, Traffic, Wildlife|1 Comment

About the Author:

Christina Hughes Babb
CHRISTINA HUGHES BABB is a Lake Highlands resident and the publisher of Advocate Magazines. Email chughes@advocatemag.com or follow twitter.com/chughesbabb