How To Help A Turtle Across A Road

Why did the turtle cross the road?

You’re asking the wrong question.

This beautiful mossback was in the road on my way to work this morning.
This beautiful mossback was in the road on my way to work this morning.

You should be asking, “Should I trust that he knew what he was doing?  If I help him, do I keep him going in the same direction he started?”

And the answers are, “Yes, and yes.”

Whether turtle or tortoise, shell-encased slowpokes are very goal-oriented. Their reason for crossing the road is probably for food, reproduction and/or shelter. If their needs had been met on the other side of the road, they would have stayed there.

The path I take to our clinic each day crosses a long and wide body of water, the Wolf River and its swamp, tributaries and backwaters. It abounds in critters. The one shown in today’s photo was an old mossback who was in harm’s way.

I have a preferred technique for performing the humanitarian task of assisting chelonians:

  1. You must keep yourself safe.  Look both ways and don’t assume people see you with a squirming turtle in your hands.
  2. Be careful when you lift the turtle, as some will bite and all have sharp claws that can deliver a mean scratch.
  3. Also be careful to avoid a complication I observed for the first time just this week: “evacuation”. I stopped traffic for a gentleman who exited his car to help a huge turtle on the same road I discovered “my” turtle on this morning. As he lifted the creature, what seemed like a gallon of watery material came out from the back end.
  4. As stated above, keep the turtle going in the same direction he was already headed.
  5. Avoid the temptation to relocate him, as turtles, tortoises and terrapins will want to return to their home territory. If that requires crossing a road to get back from where you took him, he might not survive the next road crossing.
  6. Reptiles commonly carry Salmonella bacteria that can make you extremely ill. If you are disposed to saving them from road hazards be sure to keep disinfectant wipes and/or hand sanitizer in your vehicle. Then, when you arrive at your destination, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water.

See you tomorrow, Dr. Randolph.

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