DO YOU DO WITH AN INJURED WILD ANIMAL?
by Whit Gibbons
August 31, 2008
In the next
couple of months we will see an increase in the number of wild animals
crossing roads, and the number dead or injured after being hit by a car.
The reason is that many mammals, snakes, and turtles are more active in
early fall as they seek end-of-the-year meals or travel to places to spend
the winter and are likely to end up as roadkill.
If you see
a live, dead, or injured animal on the road, what should you do? For someone
who cares about animals, pull over and take a look. You might get to see
something you have never seen up close, or you might assist in saving
an animal's life. The most likely animal that you would be able to help
would be a turtle.
a turtle crossing a highway so that it will not be injured or killed by
another vehicle is a perfectly acceptable enterprise, and it makes the
statement that someone is interested in the welfare of the animal. But
first, be fully aware of your own safety and those of other motorists.
Managing your vehicle in a way that does not distract or endanger yourself
or others is absolutely imperative.
If the turtle
is alive and healthy and can be approached safely, note the direction
it was traveling as releasing it on the side of the highway in which it
was headed is usually the best choice. A common scenario is that neither
side of the road is suitable for release. In such instances it is sometimes
better to pick the turtle up and release it farther down the highway in
a more suitable habitat, remembering of course that most turtles will
bite. If the turtle is injured, and you feel inclined to assist in its
recovery, additional issues must be considered.
of injury and the location where the turtle is found are both important
in what to do with an injured turtle. For turtles that have been hit by
a car, a triage approach of categorizing the injury as minor, intermediate,
or major is probably the best one, especially if any treatment of the
turtle's injury would require taking the turtle a long distance from the
site. Turtles are tough. A minor injury that is not life threatening would
require no treatment, and the turtle can simply be released alongside
the road where it is found. A minor injury would include a lacerated leg
or a scratched or even slightly cracked or chipped shell, but with no
organs being exposed. Turtles have remarkable healing abilities and left
to their own devices should recover from such injuries. Even when a turtle
loses all or part of a limb, the wound usually heals quickly and the turtle
continues to use what is left of the limb in swimming, digging, or walking
motions as if it were fully functional.
turtles in the intermediate category are treatable. These are ones that
have cracked shells in which the internal tissues may be visible through
cracks or gaps where small shell pieces may be missing, but no major damage
to internal organs or major blood loss has occurred. Turtles with broken
shells that have been repaired have been known to live for many years,
sometimes even laying eggs after they recover. A variety of splints can
be devised to stabilize the shell, after cleaning the wound. Combinations
of fiber tape, duct tape, epoxy, Super Glue, and dental acrylic have all
been used successfully to repair minor cracks in turtle shells.
injured turtle, notably one smashed on a highway but still alive with
its insides scattered on the road, creates a more serious problem. Unfortunately,
the most rational approach is to leave a badly injured turtle to its fate.
No humane way to euthanize a turtle injured on a highway has been agreed
upon. People who have experienced such a dilemma are among the strongest
advocates against building convenience-only highways that are unnecessary
and are in favor of creating proper shoulder barriers and under-the-road
passageways to prevent needless road kills of turtles and other wildlife
on public road systems both new and old.
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