Just like any other critter, turtles are just trying to get from point A to point B. Sometimes that means crossing a road — which can be dangerous, affecting turtle populations across the nation. These critters can't hear cars approaching or even horns, so if ever see one attempting to cross the street, the best thing you can do is try to (safely!) help it along.
Regardless of the strategy you choose, it's important to be sure that you are moving the turtle in the direction in which it was already headed; otherwise your help will have been for naught. Unless you stick to their path, stubborn reptiles will likely return to their starting point in another attempt to cross the road. You also shouldn't try to take the turtle to a different destination altogether (including your home), even if it's trying to cross to another place where there isn't a water source. During nesting season, turtles will often venture away from ponds. So, the best thing to do is send it on its merry way down the path of its own choice.
First, assess your situation.
If you're walking along the road, be sure to watch for cars. If you're driving, turn on your hazard lights and pull over to the shoulder, if possible. This will signal other cars to be cautious and slow down, without blocking the road completely.
Next, assess the turtle.
If the turtle appears to be harmed, take it to a local wildlife rehabilitator or vet. Some vets will even take in turtles for free, and there's a good chance it may survive — even if things look pretty gruesome. Even if the turtle appears to have a mortal wound, it's best to take it to a professional; euthanization may be the best option because the animals' slow metabolisms can work against them in painful situations. But if the turtle is healthy and seems to simply want to continue its journey, all the better!
What kind of turtle is it? Larger tortoises and snapping turtles (like the one pictured to the right) are a different story than ones that are easy to pick up. Snapping turtles, as their name warns, will bite — and can actually use this to your advantage.
Help the turtle along.
For snapping turtles and other species that may be aggressive, your best bet is to coax it along from behind — try gently nudging it with your foot or a stick. You may even be able to coax the turtle into a box. Some people have had success actually getting the snapping turtle to bite a stick or other sturdy object, and slowly dragging it across the road. If you're in a predicament where you need to help the turtle across quickly, the best way to pick up a snapping turtle is by its back leg, supporting it from below — NOT by the tail, which can cause damage to the turtle's spine.
If the turtle is small enough to pick up, grab the center of its shell, just behind the front legs. Be aware that the turtle may empty its bladder! Try not to handle these little guys too much, as this can alter its behavior. Another tip: Carry the turtle close to the ground, so if it tries to escape (they can be surprisingly strong and slippery!) it won't have far to fall.
If the coast is clear and you can move safely and quickly, carry the turtle across the street in as straight a line as possible and set it down as soon as you're at your destination. As soon as you can, wash your hands, as these reptiles have been known to carry salmonella.
Remember, safety first! If you can't cross the road because there are too many cars, it may be best to place the turtle in a container and get it to the other side via your vehicle. In this case, definitely keep an eye on the little guy to make sure he will continue to head in the right direction.
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- What 11 billion people could mean for Earth's animals
Photo credit (picking up turtle): riekephotos/Shutterstock