Turtle Crossing: How to Help Safely

Why did the turtle cross the road?

Much like the chicken, it simply wanted to get to the other side. Here is how you can help.

Turtles sightings are common in our northwest suburban neighborhoods. Chances are most residents have happened upon one of these slow-moving reptiles attempting to cross the road. It can be nerve-wracking to watch, which often leads helpful bystanders to attempt to help. But is there a right and wrong way to usher turtles to safety? The answer is yes.

Turtle road crossings increase between the months of April and October. During the spring, male turtles are looking for females to mate with and territory to claim as their own. Females on the other hand are looking for a place to nest. During the late summer and fall, hatchling turtles are emerging from nests in search of water, while both males and females are seeking out places to hibernate. And sometimes turtles are simply migrating to a more suitable spot to call home.

No matter the reason for their movement, with greater human development, turtles are forced to cross more roads. We can help them by following a few simple guidelines:

  • First and foremost, your safety takes precedence. “Use caution – pull over safely and watch out for traffic,” advised Emily Wagner, veterinary technician with the exotic animal medicine service at BluePearl Specialty and Emergency Pet Hospital.
  • Once you reach the turtle and have ensured your safety, determine if it is injured. If the turtle does appear to be injured, you can take it to BluePearl or contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. Find a complete list by county here: http://myfwc.com/media/2779805/licensedwildliferehabilitatorsbyregion.pdf.
  • If the turtle is unharmed, this is when you can pick it up carefully and help it cross the road. “For smaller turtles, grasp the sides of the shell firmly with both hands between the front and rear legs,” Wagner stated. If you are uncomfortable handling the turtle, scoot it into a box and carry it that way.
  • Keep the turtle low to the ground when carrying it. Even small turtles have surprising strength. If a turtle pushes free of your grip, you do not want it to fall and injure itself. “Drops can cause serious injury,” Wagner added.
  • If the turtle is large and has a long tail, it may be a snapping turtle. “For snapping turtles or those too large to pick up, you can use a large blunt stick (not sharp or pointy) to scoot the turtle across,” Wagner advised.
  • Another option for larger turtles is to use the car mat trick: Remove one of your car mats and, using a blunt object, prod the turtle onto the mat. You can then scoot the turtle across the road to safety.
  • Never pick a turtle up by the tail. This can dislocate the bones in the tail, which is very painful for the turtle.
  • Regardless of how you help a turtle to the other side of the road, it is imperative that the turtle is facing the direction it was heading. Never turn it around or take it to the side of the road from which it started. 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 the turtle is safely across the road, watch to ensure it is continuing its journey and not turning back around.
  • Although you may be tempted to relocate a turtle away from the road, don’t. “Turtles have specific home ranges, so avoid moving one far away from where you found it. Just get the turtle out of danger,” Wagner explained. Besides risking additional road crossings, some turtles who are unable to find their way back to their home range will stop eating and just wander listlessly.
  • Be sure to wash your hands thoroughly after handling a turtle.
  • Most importantly, keep wild turtles wild. “Don’t keep a found wild animal for a pet, even if it is very small. Their best chance of survival is in their natural habitat. Additionally, some species are protected by law,” Wagner added.

We are very lucky to live in an area that is home to a wide range of Florida wildlife. Remember, they were here first, and we owe it to our animal neighbors to respect their territory and help them thrive.

A special thanks to BluePearl Specialty and Emergency Pet Hospital for their valuable input for this article.

By Karen Ring

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