Archive for April 2012

A Desperate Rescue   3 comments

SNTU -105 was the one hundred and fifth turtle, out of six hundred and sixty-five turtles, to be admitted to the Kawartha Turtle Trauma Centre in 2011. It was a memorable case. A large female snapping turtle, she arrived in terrible condition. As is the fate of many female turtles in the spring, she was hit by a car as she migrated from her home in the swamp in search of the perfect spot to lay her eggs.

Snapping turtles are different from other species of turtles in that their plastron (the bottom of their shell) is much smaller than their carapace (the top part of their shell). While many species of turtle are able to pull themselves completely into their shell when confronted with a dangerous situation, snapping turtles do not have this option -their shells are too small! Instead snapping turtles only defence on land is aggression (in the water they will almost always swim away from danger). Often motorists think that they can “straddle” a turtle with their car to avoid hitting it, but a snapping turtle sees this as a threat and will snap at the undercarriage of the car, often leading to severe head injuries, such as broken jaws, crushing wounds to the head and shearing wounds of the carapace. Such was the case with SNTU-105.

When she was admitted, SNTU-105 was in rough shape. She was lethargic and large portions of her carapace had been sheared off. Her head had been hit as well, leaving her with a broken jaw. She had lost a lot of blood and was very quiet and unresponsive. Immediately SNTU-105 was given pain meds, antibiotics and fluids. She began moving around a bit when she was given her needles, as I’m sure you or I would too!

SNTU-105 was left overnight so that her pain medication had time to set in and so that she wasn’t overstressed. The next day she underwent sedation and had her jaw wired and her fractures secured with special brackets and wire. She was then x-rayed and it was discovered that she was a mother-to-be! It was clear that she had been struck while on her way to nest and still had 22 eggs inside of her!

Over the course of the next month SNTU-105 reluctantly laid her eggs one by one. Each egg was carefully collected and placed in an incubation box and kept at an optimum temperature in the turtle nursery in hopes that they would eventually hatch. In the wild, less than 1% of turtles survive to adulthood! This is due to being heavily preyed upon by raccoons, skunks, and other predators as well as many other factors. By incubating SNTU-105’s 22 eggs, we could be making a huge impact on the snapping turtle population!

As SNTU-105’s eggs slowly developed over the course of the next few months, she continued to undergo treatment. The extent of her wounds meant that she had to have bandage changes every day in order to keep infection out. She underwent daily bandage changes for nearly four months! Finally enough scar tissue had formed that she was able to be without the protective covering of the bandages and was finally able to be moved into deeper water where she could hide and feel safe. She was also very hesitant to begin eating on her own as is the case with many of our injured patients. It’s hard to eat when you’re not feeling well! After many weeks of providing her with juicy earthworms and delicious fish, she finally began eating on her own, which was a huge relief and meant that she was beginning to feel better!

Due to the extent of her wounds, SNTU-105 has been kept over the winter to ensure that she is fully recovered and ready to go back into the wild by the time spring comes. When turtles hibernate, their metabolic rate slows down and makes it much more difficult for them to heal themselves. By keeping them over the winter, they do not go into hibernation and therefore continue healing at a normal rate.

One of SNTU-105's fifteen healthy hatchlings

SNTU-105 is now waiting for the weather to warm enough for her release, but she will not be going alone! In August, the first of her eggs began to hatch. A tiny head popped out of one of the eggs and surveyed the world for the first time. It was the first of 15 of the 22 eggs to hatch; a huge success!!  SNTU-105’s babies are now patiently waiting for spring to arrive so that they can be released back into their natural habitat.

– Olivia Vandersanden


Posted April 12, 2012 by thinkingturtles in Uncategorized