Turtle Rescue

This past week while mowing the backyard I found two Eastern Box Turtles hiding in the waist-high grass. Because the grass in this part of our yard was so sparse during the winter, I had allowed it to grow and seed before mowing, hoping that by doing so it would become thicker. Apparently the turtles liked that idea.

One of the turtles I’m pretty certain I had moved a couple of weeks earlier when mowing the side yard. I caught both turtles and brought them inside for my grandson to watch while I finished mowing. Turtles actually move a lot faster than people believe, and I didn’t want to risk one hiding in the grass I had yet to mow.

Terrapene carolina carolina Photo by Kristen King

Seeing the excitement and curiosity my grandson had for this turtles made me remember the first turtle I had found when I was about his age. I had found my first turtle in Alabama crawling across the yard and brought it to my mother. Like any boy and a lot of girls, I wanted to keep the turtle, but she didn’t want me to. So she got some fingernail polish and told me that she’d let anyone else who found it know that the turtle was mine. She wrote my name and birth date on the top of its shell, and later that evening, we turned the turtle loose near the edge of the woods.

Terrapene carolina carolina Photo by Kristen King

I never expected to see that turtle again, but a couple of summers later I found it in a ditch in the pasture behind our house. The fingernail polish information was still there. I had wanted to take it home, but my mother said that it looked happy there, so she convinced me to leave it.

Over the years, I’ve found turtles on the road and rescued them. In 1998 I worked for the USDA in Kentucky setting up Gypsy Moth traps in five counties. My son was only five years old and my daughter was three. Some days they rode in the car with me. Each county had been divided up into quadrants and I had to find a place to set a trap in each quadrant. Most of these roads were in rural Kentucky where you might not see another car approach for miles. Also, it was the time of year when the turtles were on the move and often this required them to cross the road.

I don’t know how many dead turtles I had seen on the road before I decided to lessen the loss. But on the back roads, if no traffic was coming, I stopped and picked up the turtles trying to cross the road and put them in a box in the backseat. My kids loved this and wanted them ALL as pets. After rescuing nearly twenty turtles, even they realized we couldn’t possibly keep them.

We kept them for about a week before we finally had to find a safe place to release them. I didn’t want them to venture back out into the highway and find unfortunate fate as I had actually watched senseless drivers go out of their way to intentionally hit them.

My wife and I were students at Morehead State University then. The safest place we could think of to take these turtles was on a hiking trail near the woods beside the lake. We loaded up the turtles in boxes and some in buckets and our kids had fun releasing them into the wild. The next year we hiked the path and looked to see how many we might find. We hadn’t marked them in any way, and so the few turtles we did see, we weren’t sure if they had been those rescued or not. However, we were content knowing they weren’t going to be killed on the road.


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