Turtle Rescues

Urban area developments like roads and even lawn equipment can destroy turtle habitats, making it harder for the slow animal to escape danger. Discover how a rescue team at North Carolina State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine is using the latest medical techniques to rescue injured turtles.


In fast-growing urban areas, it's not easy being a turtle.

Development destroys habitat.

Busy roads and lawn equipment are hard for turtles to avoid.

And don't forget -- turtles move very slowly.

A rescue team at North Carolina State University's College of Veterinary Medicine brings the latest medical techniques to rescuing injured turtles.

Take a look.

So, Cowfish was found on the side of the road.

He was probably hit by a car.

We tried to repair his shell a little bit.

You're doing a great job.

Right now, he's got that white ointment that's on him.

That's an antimicrobial ointment to try to prevent any type of infection, and it also promotes shell healing.

This will heal up nicely, especially in these snapping turtles.

It'll kind of keratinize with like your fingernail.

I love it when they're this active.

It's a good sign.

Does that mean that you're ready to go before it gets cold?

A lot of times, when they're sick, they're not aggre-- especially snapping turtles, which can be a rather more aggressive species than the other species that we see... When they're sick, they're not as snappy.

So when they get to be snappy like this, that's a good indication that they're ready to be released.

Medical science mixes with common sense to care for injuries in this most unique of hospitals.

This is part of the reason why we do it.

It's a way to go ahead and give back to our community since overpopulation is occurring or kind of taking more of their habitat, and so this is one way we can make up for what we're doing, by healing the turtles and giving them a better life and putting them back in an area that's a little bit more safe.

This is the Turtle Rescue Team at North Carolina State University's College of Veterinary Medicine.

It's housed in a corner of the Veterinary Health and Wellness Center.

Roughly 80 student volunteers make up the team, handling everything from intake and triage to care and release.

Do you know how many stitches he had, total?

I didn't look at the chart.

I got four out.

I think there's one more right here.

And this is Walking Stick.

He's a box turtle.

All the patients are named after other animal species.

Numbers are really hard for vet students to memorize with everything else coming and going through our heads, so the animal names, it's more fun for us -- when we get a turtle in and we get to name it, then we're more into the cases, like, 'Hey, this is the turtle that I named,' and also, it's much more fun to walk into a lab full of Snow Leopards and Gibbons and Walking Sticks than it is A154.

Those fun names also mask the seriousness of the injuries.

The team cares for more than 500 injured turtles every year.

About half of those injured turtles will recover and be returned to the wild.

If you look at his shell here, this is a shell fracture he probably got from being hit by a car.

We fixed that up.

You can see there's two little holes right here.

That's where we drilled through the shell to bring the shell together.

That way, we can help it heal.

And then if you look at his front, he's missing this leg.

Sometimes when they get car strikes, they can get a little bit of nerve damage, and so what we'll do when we see that is we'll first treat them with an anti-inflammatory in case the nerves are just damaged because there's swelling around them, but this guy, his leg never really recovered, so we decided to go ahead and amputate it.

Vehicle strikes are the number-one cause of turtle injuries.

Strikes by lawn equipment rank second.

Dog attacks are number three.

So, they can totally live with three legs, and they do really, really well with three legs.

We can put him if you want to move Gibbon.

So he's totally able to move if he decides he wants to.

The Turtle Rescue Team sees more and more injured turtles every year.

I think in 1996, we had 38 patients, and this year is our third year in a row with over 500.

I don't think there are more turtles in Wake County now than there were 25 years ago.

I think that there are more people, there are more roads, and the turtles are getting squeezed.

The turtle team's records show that if a turtle survives the first 24 hours after an injury, the chances of recovery are greatly improved.

And the team has pioneered new treatment techniques to treat injured turtles that have gained national recognition, including using women's dress hooks to repair broken shells.

One of the things that's really challenging is when a turtle is brought in, in some cases, to look at that animal and say, 'What are its chances?'

I mean, everything has a chance, right?

If there's life, there's hope.

But we know that a lot of the turtles are not going to make it, and we try to humanely euthanize those turtles so that they're not suffering.

But there are some turtles that come in that seem to have that extra will, that extra spark -- even though their injury looks horrendous, their attitude looks pretty good, and we'll give those turtles a chance.

So they're good patients in that they are really tough.

Turtles have been around for millions of years.

They haven't changed a lot.

They can live a long time.

We know box turtles can live over 100 years.

They have a slow metabolism.

They're pretty docile, but they are challenging because of that shell -- that thing that gives them strength and protects them is a barrier to us when we're trying to diagnose a problem or treat them.