There’s something decidedly conservative about a turtle's plodding, carefully considered ways.
Even the fact that he carries his home on his back — and retreats inside of it at the first sign of trouble — suggests this reptile plays things safer than most.
So why, at this time of year, do we see so many turtles in the middle of the road, oblivious to the shell-crushing treads of traffic?
It’s a perilous pastime for any animal, much less one whose numbers across North America have been in freefall in recent years. About a third of turtle species in the U.S. alone are listed as threatened or endangered.
Scientists blame much of the carnage on the turtles’ stubborn insistence on crossing the road.
“For the fleet of foot, like deer or rabbits, traffic is not as much of an issue," James Gibbs, a conservation biologist at State University of New York in Syracuse, told ABC News. “But these ground-hugging animals are much more vulnerable.”
But recently, in Ontario, Canada, the situation has grown even more dire.
The Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre, the biggest trauma and rehabilitation hub for turtles in the province, has declared a state of emergency.
So far this year, the organization has taken in nearly 600 injured turtles, stretching its resources to the breaking point.
"We are beyond maximum caring capacity ... we've never seen it this busy," Sue Carstairs, executive director of the center, told CBC News. “We've had double the number of admissions. We're not sure why.”
Record rainfall, however, may be a factor. The province has seen so much precipitation, even Toronto’s iconic islands were temporarily closed due to extreme flooding.
Good news for turtles comes with a catch
The modern turtle doesn’t get a lot of breaks these days. For millions of years, a turtle’s shell was the ultimate mobile fortress — until the automobile rendered it obsolete.
Record rainfall, on the other hand? Turtles can get into that. Super soggy conditions are a boon for reptiles that lay their eggs in various ponds.
It would seem the luckless turtle finally got a bit of a break — until the part about having to cross a road or two to lay those eggs. Not to mention the turtle’s even riskier propensity to lay eggs on highway shoulders, where the gravel can seem like a soft, warm place to raise the hatchlings.
And then it comes down to that old, familiar adversary: the automobile. If there’s any hope for turtles, it’s going to have to start with the people driving those cars.
That’s why organizations from wildlife rescues to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) are imploring motorists to be vigilant for highway-crossing turtles, especially this time of year.
If you do happen to see one on the road, there are a few tips, courtesy of USFWS:
Firstly, the USFWS, reminds, keep your own safety in mind when stopping the car. Secondly, insteading of helping a turtle to cross the street, it may be a better idea to stand guard, if possible, and let the traveler get where he’s going on his own.
Snapping turtles got their name for a reason.
If the turtle does need to be moved, use a car mat or towel, to move the traveler to the side of the road that he was originally heading in.
See a tail? Don’t be tempted to pick up a turtle that way. It’s often a recipe for a bite. And certainly, never ever take the turtle home with you.
Finally, if the turtle looks hurt — often a cracked shell is a telltale sign — call a local wildlife refuge.
In the U.S., you can look one up by ZIP code.
The rush of modernity hasn’t been kind to the turtle — a remarkable reptile that can live as long as 100 years. And automobile culture is about to stop out of respect for his wandering ways. But one just one car stopping can make a world of difference for a turtle.