Turtle rehab is best left to the experts

While turtles have protective shells that protect them, they aren’t invincible. They are frequently injured by lawnmowers and pets, as well as propellers and gunshots. Sometimes, they get sick.

“They get damaged a lot,”Lori Monday, Arkansas Game and Fish Commission regional education specialist

They are resilient, however, and even if the turtle’s shell or carapace is cracked, they can still recover.

The Wildlife Rehabilitation (agfc.com) website contains a list of wildlife rehabilitation specialists in the state. It is maintained by the Game and Fish Commission. Calling one of these people can help you find out how to help a turtle that is injured.

Anna Heckmann from Fayetteville founded the nonprofit Turtle Shire Rehabilitation Center one year ago. This fills the gap left by the departure of another rehabilitator. The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission allows wildlife rehabilitators; they must find a licensed rehabilitationator to supervise a two year apprenticeship. Heckmann is now finishing this stage.

Heckmann receives calls from turtle owners about injuries. She assesses the situation and determines whether the turtle should be admitted to her center to receive pain relief and antibiotics. She works closely alongside a veterinarian, who can take necessary X-rays for diagnostics.

“He did amputate a prolapsed uterus in a turtle,”Heckmann is an adjunct professor of biology at Northwest Arkansas Community College.

Heckmann’s goal to help injured and sick turtles so they can be released is his goal. This can be difficult because turtles live within one mile.

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“But when a turtle is injured it’s usually because they’re in a high traffic area or somewhere that poses a risk to them, so they have a better chance of survival if they can be released somewhere they can find a mate and reproduce and control the insect population and spread seeds and do everything they do for the environment,”She says.

Dr. Beth Milligan, Little Rock, has been a licensed wildlife rehabilitation specialist for Game and Fish for approximately a year. However, she has been helping turtles for much longer.

People all over the state call her to report that they have found injured turtles. She can often drive long distances to reach the turtles, but her work schedule as a human physician doesn’t always permit her to travel immediately. She can sometimes offer advice to callers on how to hydrate turtles, what to do to make sure they heal, and how to bandage any wounds.

“If the shell is so broken that a lot of their muscular area is exposed, it’s going to require me getting involved,”She says.

She uses mesh, non-toxic glues, tape, and other materials to splint turtle shells.

Sometimes, she must say no to a rescue effort because she knows that even with all her medical skills, she cannot help.

She is not a member of a non-profit organization and cannot accept donations, unlike Heckmann.

“There’s no funding from Game and Fish that I’m aware of for doing this,”She says. “All of us rehabbers do this out of our own pockets.”

Milligan has saved several turtles that were in serious danger, and has also lost a few. Milligan gets more calls about three toed box turtles than about aqua turtles. She points out that aquatic turtles are typically larger than box turtles and therefore are easier to spot on roads.

“They get hit occasionally but usually that’s because someone was doing that on purpose,”She laments.

Milligan received the majority of calls this year from people looking to rehome turtles that they had bought or kept as pets. She reminds people that turtles are a commitment to their lives. Because many turtles live up to 50 years, there are not many people or organizations that can take them. Game and Fish Commission regulations prohibit the release of turtles in the wild.

People who find injured turtles need to be aware of this fact. The first instinct is to bring the turtle home to try to heal it. Milligan suggests that it is better to let the turtle be, or to contact a wildlife rehabilitationator.

“There’s not a lot I can do for those people,”She says. “It’s a bad idea to take a turtle home.”

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