Why did the turtle cross the road? The short answer is to lay eggs.
At the Humane Rescue Alliance, we have had an increase in concerned callers worried about turtles appearing in areas that they are not normally seen, like on roadways, which are unsafe for any animal, let alone a notoriously slow-moving one.
Turtles will travel to areas far from where they normally live to lay their eggs. It’s important to remember that they have traveled that route their entire lives — the only thing new are the barriers created by humans across their natural paths. In a perfect world, civil engineers would take the local wildlife population into consideration when starting projects and include either elevated or underground crossings animals could use without risk of being run over.
If the turtle is in the roadway and it is safe to do so, helping the animal cross the street in the direction they were moving is the best solution. These turtles, females on their way to a nesting site, are determined. If you move them in the opposite direction of which they were headed or to another area, then they will reroute and attempt to make their way back to their original destination.
As unsettling as it might be to see a normally aquatic turtle, or a turtle who is found in water, making their way to dry land to lay her eggs, it is not out of the ordinary for these prehistoric creatures. If she is not in a roadway or in immediate danger, people should stand clear. As soon as she is done laying her eggs and covering them up, she will make her way back to the water.
Never remove a wild animal from their natural habitat, unless a licensed rehabilitator or animal control agency has instructed you to do so.
At HRA, we have seen an increase in once-wild turtles being brought into our shelter after living in someone’s home or yard. This is not only extremely detrimental to the native ecosystem of which the wild animal plays a crucial role in, but it is incredibly unfair to the animal to be taken from his or her natural habitat.
Pet turtles are bred in captivity. They have presumably been bred and screened to limit health risks to your family. They have also been handled their entire lives. Wild turtles are just that: wild. Even though some species appear relatively tame, they are not enjoying human companionship.
When a family takes a wild turtle from their native home and keeps the turtle for an extended time, they are not able to released back into the wild, especially if it is not known exactly where the turtle was originally found. If it is known where the turtle was found, there is a rigorous screening process to ensure the turtle is not harboring any diseases that could be passed on to the animals who are a part of their ecosystem before being released back into the wild.
Turtles are also a long-term commitment, with life spans ranging from 25 years to even over 100 years.
Because turtles need to travel long distances as part of their breeding cycle at the pace of, well, a turtle, they are oftentimes victims of dog attacks, being struck by cars and even children’s art projects. If you happen upon a turtle who is sick, injured, or even covered in paint, the animal will need to be taken to a local rehabilitation center for care. It is important to make note of the exact location where the turtle was found, since the animal will need to be released back to the same location once rehabilitated. If you find a turtle in need of help but are unable to safely handle it or you do not have the means to transport it, please immediately contact the local animal control agency with the location of the animal and ideally a photograph of the animal and location.
Because most injuries to turtles involve their shell, they often are in rehabiliation centers for long periods of time. With the right care and given time, many cases completely recover and go on to live happy wild turtle lives.
If you find an injured turtle in DC, please call HRA's field services team at 202-723-5730.
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