Thursday afternoon, a new patient was brought to the Blue Ridge Wildlife Center.
A box turtle’s shell was cracked and a chunk will forever be missing. Blood from the wound seeped down, covering her face. Immediately, she was placed on painkillers.
“This has been a pretty crazy year for turtles. So we get about 2,000 patients in a year, and only about 8 percent of those are reptiles. That averages out at over 100 turtles,” said Dr. Jen Riley, director of veterinary services. “This year, we actually have an over 500 percent increase in snapping turtles, specifically. Turtles in general are up 250 percent.”
Riley said accidents involving aquatic turtles tend to increase during years with heavy rainfall.
“Which is the case this year. But snapping turtles, it seems it’s [accidents have] been a pretty steady increase across a whole decade-plus of time — which to me indicates to me, that people are either more interested in helping them, or, the negative side of that, that people are encroaching on their habitat even more.”
According to Riley, 90 percent of turtles that the center sees are treated for car related injuries. Riley believes the problem will only get worse, as development increases.
Riley said turtles can carry diseases, so when handling snapping turtles, she recommends gently using a stick to help move them along. She said it is critical you do not pick snapping turtles up by their tails, as it can break their spine.
“These guys [turtles] can actually take days to die on the side of the road sometimes — and especially when it’s hot out, they basically sit on the pavement and cook.”
Alternatively, injuries, that may seem small, are often a big deal. What may look like a tiny divot in a turtle’s shell can cause paralysis if it is over it’s spine.