News From Terre Haute, Indiana

August 16, 2013

READERS' FORUM: Aug. 16, 2013

The Tribune-Star

---- — Help preserve state’s turtles

Chances are, if you have been walking, biking or driving in Indiana, you have probably come across a turtle or two. Many of us find turtles to be fascinating creatures. They are most active in the late spring/summer/early fall, so from late March through October, having a turtle cross your path is not uncommon.

Unfortunately, some of these turtles are in trouble and need our help, or these encounters could become very rare.

According to the Department of Natural Resources, Indiana has 16 native species of turtles; several are endangered, and one of the more well-known species, the eastern box turtle, is protected. Eastern box turtle numbers are declining because of habitat destruction, collection and displacement by humans, and road mortality. It is illegal to collect them from the wild, yet many people still do it, unaware or uncaring of the damage they are doing to these fascinating animals. You are obviously doing a box turtle, or any turtle for that matter, a favor if you move them out of the road; the favor ends for that turtle when you take it home with you.

Box turtles spend the majority of their life in a very small range, and when displaced, will try desperately to return to it. Even if you release the turtle later, chances are it will be in a different location, and that is almost surely a death sentence. They may try to find their way back to their original area, crossing miles and multiple roads to get there, increasing the probability of being run over. If it is unable to find its way back, the turtle may be unable to survive. Any turtle taken out of the wild is one less turtle that can breed and sustain the population.

Please don’t remove turtles from their natural environments. If you have recently taken a turtle home and want to do the right thing, take the turtle back to where you found it, and place it safely out of harm’s way. If you decide you do want a turtle as a pet, please do your research first. Turtles, and other reptiles, are not easily kept pets, and they require a lot of special care.

Some turtles can easily live for 50 years or more, grow to be 12 inches long or more, need large enclosures, and specialized lighting and heat sources. So, having one as a pet is a big commitment. Look for a credible reptile rescue instead of buying a pet; like many shelter pets, there are many turtles and other reptiles that need homes.

How can you help turtles? Be on the look-out for them. They love mild, sunny weather, but are also often seen after it rains, especially if the sun comes out. If you see a turtle in the road, and it is safe to do so, move it to the side of the road in the direction it was headed (do not put yourself in danger).

Also, don’t throw anything out of your car window, even food or items you think are biodegradable. Discarded food attracts animals to the road, thus increasing their chances of being hit. Gum and cigarette butts can be deadly to birds and other animals. If you are looking to actively get involved, please find the Wabashiki Turtle Rescue page on Facebook to see how you can help the turtles of the Wabashiki wetlands, too many of whom are sadly run over on U.S. 40 (along with beavers, otters, muskrats and other animals).

Thank you in advance for helping preserve Indiana’s turtles.

— Ellen Lunsford

Terre Haute