IS THE BEST WAY TO KILL WILDLIFE
by Whit Gibbons
April 23, 2006
animals are killed or injured every year on highways. I certainly do not
advocate that the average person try to deal with an injured raccoon,
bobcat, or bear, but anyone can handle a hurt turtle; some people even
take them home. Sometimes a broken shell can be repaired. But what do
you do if it can’t?
A question I received from someone in Pennsylvania last week brought to
the forefront a problem that anyone caring about wildlife might face.
What do you do with an animal that would be better off dead than alive?
the question. “I am currently a pharmacy student doing research
at Temple University, and I need a turtle expert. My teacher received
a telephone call from the University of Pennsylvania Veterinary Hospital
saying they could not find the right drug combination to euthanize a large
turtle that had been hit by a car. For two days they tried traditional
agents to no avail and were forced to chop the turtle’s head off.
My assignment is to find an easier way to euthanize a turtle, but I cannot
locate the necessary information. If I could find a physician to talk
to or the proper place to search it would be greatly appreciated.”
should point out that someone forwarded this email to me, so I was not
the “turtle expert” the pharmacy student originally directed
the question to. Second, the implication that pharmacists at a major veterinary
hospital do not know how to euthanize a turtle without resorting to an
ax or butcher knife is secondhand material from someone else’s email.
I would like to think that most pharmacists could find more palatable
My answer was simple and straightforward, and did not even acknowledge
his reference to finding “a physician to talk to.” For what?
A turtle? Anyway, my answer: “One cc [cubic centimeter] of formaldehyde
injected from a syringe through a needle inserted into the foramen magnum
will kill a turtle in three seconds. You should probably also look up
information on pithing, which doesn't even require formaldehyde. Become
None of these
procedures sound very pleasant, but the point was to tell someone how
to put down a large, injured turtle in a humane manner, which means as
fast as possible. The student responded with an email that asked, “Would
it be possible for you to direct me to a place that would give me the
exact instructions and amounts? I have searched and searched. . . .”
in my initial email might not have been transparent to someone who never
had a biology course. But I assumed a pharmacy student would know that
formaldehyde is a chemical used as a preservative, the foramen magnum
is the large opening at the base of the skull where the spinal cord passes
through to the brain, and pithing is a standard biology lab procedure
in which a needle is inserted into the base of the brain, thus destroying
the spinal cord. The “drug free” part was just my being clever
with a pharmacy student and has no deeper meaning.
patient teacher, I emailed him back: “I have no idea what you might
be searching for and where, but draw the formaldehyde into the syringe;
use a standard gauge needle found in your pharmacy supply store; bend
the turtle's head forward so that the foramen magnum is accessible and
inject the formaldehyde into the brain. Pithing can be done with a dissecting
needle. Some people recommend putting a sick or injured reptile into a
some zealots are so over the top and absurd about how to treat animals,
I added, “Although some animal rights activists decry the use of
pithing, freezing, and possibly any kind of euthanasia, I assure you that
an injured turtle or any other reptile suffers far less and for a much
shorter time from immediate killing in one of these ways than from a slow
lingering death.” Though these procedures are not pleasant, such
forms of euthanasia seem to me far better than chopping the animal's head
off. And euthanasia is better than allowing an animal to suffer.
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