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Why does the turtle cross the road?

turtle on road

By Merran Laver & Phil Machin, Wildcare.

IT MIGHT APPEAR as a rock on the road, but on closer inspection a living, breathing turtle could be sitting there on the bitumen. Just by increasing driver awareness, the lives of these long-necked reptiles on our roads in the summer months can be spared.

While turtles have hard shells that provide great protection, these will crack if driven over by a vehicle. In the worst case, the whole animal will be badly damaged. A cracked shell can be repaired and with no internal injuries the animal can eventually be released back into the wild.

Not enough research has been done to determine why long-necked turtles roam between water sources. Theories include: looking for a mate; looking for a nesting site in spring and summer; and movement to avoid in-breeding. However, we do know it tends to happen more following rainfall.

If you spot a turtle on the road, it could be injured after having been run over, or it may be unharmed. Sometimes the passing of cars can cause them to ‘freeze’ and be reluctant to move on. If this happens, then it will obviously be in great danger from any following vehicles.

You could be saving a life that may go on for another 50 years!

What to do

Physically moving it off the road will be a life saver. Yes, turtles can be stinky – but just think, you could be saving a life that could go on for another 50 years!

What to do? Avoid running over the turtle by slowing down; drive around it, or drive over it so that the wheels avoid crushing the animal. Pull over, and when safe to do so, lift the turtle up to inspect it for injuries. There is a special way to do this without getting ‘scented’ by the turtle’s musk glands (this is a defence mechanism).

Avoid the sides of the shells where the scent glands are. Lift the turtle up with the fingers at the front of the shell – the head will pop in – and at the back of the shell. Holding it in this way allows you to look over the animal and check for injuries.

Check underneath the turtle by lifting it higher, not by turning it over. If the turtle looks fine, place it on the ground well away from the road in the direction it was heading. If it is injured, or if there is any doubt, please take it with you and call Wildcare 6299 1966 (or ACT Wildlife in Canberra: 0432 300 033). Injured wildlife can also be dropped off at a local Vet.

A useful tip is to carry a towel in the boot of the car. If you are unsure about picking up a turtle, a towel will allow you to scoop it up, keeping your hands clean. A towel is ideal to help other native animals too, such as for gently scooping up injured birds or lizards.

Never put an injured turtle in water, as this can facilitate infection – keep it dry. If the shell is cracked, under guidance from Wildcare, it can have a bandage or tape applied to give stability, before it is fully repaired by a wildlife carer or Vet.

Lastly, with a little more driver awareness, many turtle road deaths (and other native animals) can be prevented if we simply look and wonder what that small, dark lump on the road is.

ABOVE: Straddling the white line (photo by Alicia Perritt).

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