About Me

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I am a mother, a teacher, and a nature lover. I grew up on a mountain we called Owls' Knob in the Ozarks of Arkansas. The first seven years of my life were spent living in a log cabin, far from a store or streetlight, without electricity or running water and after twenty years of travel, I returned to the abondoned homestead. Now I live on a hill by a small lake and work at a public garden. These are stories about nature written from a women deeply influenced by place.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Roslyn's Turtle Rescue

Every year there is a great turtle migration. This year it is earlier than most. Turtles hibernate in holes they dig in the ground. In spring they dig out of the ground and go in search of a mate. In the past two days I have see five turtles crossing roads or hunkering down to avoid lawn mowers.
Today, I drove past a turtle upside down in the middle of the lane on Huntsville Road, heading out of town. I quickly pulled over and ran back to help it out of the road and back on its feet. As I picked it up, I noticed that its anterior plastron (the front piece of this bottom shell) was badly cracked. The wound looked fresh and at first I didn't even know if the poor creature was alive. However, I didn't think its shell would heal without a little first aid. So I took the turtle home and let it rest in our empty laundry basket.
I am not a fan of taking wild animals out of their natural environment or interrupting nature's way of doing things. But as I see it, this turtle was injured due to human disturbances. It was clipped by a car, not exactly a natural occurrence. So I feel like my interference is understandable in this instance.
After a short while, I peeked back in on the turtle to find that it's head and legs were out of its shell. Its bright orange and red coloration told me that this was a male box turtle. By counting the rings on its shell, I could tell he was about nine years old. He didn't look happy but he did seem healthy and without major internal injuries. I examined his wound again to find that his plastron was almost completely severed in half and would not heal properly because the peices no longer matched up. I wasn't sure how to get it back in place or how to keep it in place, so I called around.
I made dozens of calls or so to human societies, animal hospitals, and animal rescue places around northwest Arkansas. Most everyone was completely disinterested in the well being of this reptile. Many places only deal with mammals and birds. Cute furry mammals and beautiful birds get recognition, but our fur-less, flightless friends are often overlooked and forgotten. I guess that is why I write about insects, amphibians, and reptiles more than anything else. I like to root for the little guys!
Finally, an animal hospital gave me an old lady's cell phone number. I explained the turtle's condition and the lady asked some questions. "Can you see 'turtle" through the crack?" she asked. "No," I answered. "Good then we are not talking about injured 'turtle body' but instead damaged turtle shell, right? In that case, with a little help, the turtle should be just fine!" She instructed me to clean the wound carefully and try to adjust the pieces so they could heal properly. Then she told me how to make a bridge-like band-aid using super glue and a thin but sturdy piece of plastic. I followed her instructions and, with help from my wonderful partner, John, made it happen!
At first John was a little annoyed. He laughed at my concern and said I should just let the turtle go to live or die in nature. Let nature take its course. I told him I would let it go in a day, after I helped it out a little. Once he could tell I was not going to give up, he jumped in and helped. In fact, being the carpenter and handy-man, he couldn't help but jump in and take over the project. When he puts his mind to it, my man can fix anything, even a turtle!
The broken pieces
don't match up
Now the break will heal
The hardest part was pushing the broken piece back into place. The pictures don't show the injury well, but without being lined up the wound was exposed, could have got snagged on something, and could not have healed safely. However, nothing could be adjusted unless the turtle had his head out of its shell. When it was closed I could not move the pieces. So I cleaned the wound with hydrogen peroxide and then stepped away to wait for the turtle to open his shell. When I saw that he was poking his head out, I carefully tip-toed up behind the turtle and slipped a small file into the opening. As the turtle closed it's shell, he closed it on my file. I was able to apply just a little pressure and pop the piece back into place. Upon doing so, the turtle cried. If you have ever heard a turtle cry, you know it is one of the saddest sounds! It almost sounds like a creaking of bones followed by a tiny gasping squeak. I hated to hear him cry, but I was happy to see that the piece were back in place and the healing could begin!
It may look messy,
but I think it will work!
John can fix anything!
Once the piece was back in place, John swooped in with super glue. He custom cut a piece of plastic packaging found in the recycling to fit the turtle's shell. I cleaned and sanitized it, then helped John glue the piece of plastic to the shell. He used a piece of sand paper to score the shell and plastic before trying to glue it. He was careful not to get glue on the wound itself. He also avoided applying glue to the natural grooves in the shell since those grooves must grow as the turtle grows. He glued the plastic so that it would hold the plastron together without obstructing the turtle's mobility. We do not expect the bandage to stay on the turtle forever. In fact, we hope it falls off before the end of summer. It just needs to hold the plastron in place until the creature heals.
I am confident that this turtle will be just fine. I will release it back into the wild tomorrow morning so it can go back to the great turtle migration and find a mate!

1 comment:

  1. WoW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! That's freaken' awesome you guys!