NC State University’s Turtle Rescue Team Cares for Injured or Sick Native Herps
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Like most other people, I am always excited when spring comes around and plants emerge, flowers bloom, and butterflies and bees become active…but to be honest my anxiety level goes up a wee bit, especially when driving. That’s because the warm weather means I will start seeing turtles out and about, attempting to cross roads and often getting injured or killed in the process. Turtles put their life on the line every time they try to cross a road just to search for food or water, and this risk has only increased with our population boom.
I always stop to help turtles across the road or pick up an injured turtle. We are very fortunate here in North Carolina to have an organization that cares for injured turtles. The NC State Turtle Rescue Team (TRT) is a volunteer organization run by veterinary students at North Carolina State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine (CVM). Since 1996, the TRT has provided medical, surgical and husbandry services free of charge for native turtles and other reptiles and amphibians (their permit does not allow for them to treat pet turtles). About 2/3 of the turtles the TRT receives are hit by cars, and 50% of these turtles are eastern box turtles. In a busy year the TRT will see over 500 patients!
Dr. Greg Lewbart is a Professor of Aquatic, Wildlife, and Zoological Medicine at NC State and the co-founder and faculty supervisor of the Turtle Rescue Team. Lewbart explains that the Turtle Rescue Team benefits the students in many ways: “I think the main benefit is allowing DVM students early in their career to assume ownership of clinical cases and practice “being doctors” before entering the clinic during their 4th year. They learn to communicate with colleagues, write medical records, and interface with specialists at the CVM for complex or unusual cases. Next would be the generation of new knowledge. To date there have been about 30 research papers published based on Turtle Team cases. Third would be education of and interaction with the public. And finally, we end up saving some turtles that otherwise wouldn’t survive. I list that as last because even if we save a couple hundred turtles a year, it’s probably not a huge impact on the population. But the positive ripple effect of education and learning is much greater.”
Emma Ferraro is a second-year vet student and Social Media Chair for the Turtle Rescue Team. “Turtle Rescue Team is not only a great way to give back to our native wildlife species, but it’s also an incredible learning opportunity for veterinary students. Under the instruction of our faculty advisors, we get to triage and formulate a treatment plan for our own patients, exercising the very skills we are building on in our classes as we become doctors. It’s the best club ever!”, Ferraro stated.
I lived in North Carolina for many years before I heard about the Turtle Rescue Team, and I even work for NC State University! I know from past conversations and social media posts that many others are not aware of this fantastic resource so that inspired me to write this article. I have brought several turtles to the TRT over the years and have always been impressed with their dedication and passion for helping wildlife, especially knowing that all the vet students are in a very rigorous and demanding program and volunteer their time.
I visited the Turtle Rescue Team in mid-April to get a few photos of the students with some of their patients. I’ve been an animal lover my entire life, and spent several years as a wildlife rehabber in my home state of Georgia. It was so fascinating for me to talk with the students and learn about how they care for their diverse patients. I could have stayed for hours!
Below are a few photos from the TRT headquarters at the NC State Vet School in Raleigh. I’ve also included some photos of a couple of the turtles I have brought to them over the years that were later released back into the wild.
Success Stories: Examples of Turtles I Have Taken to the Turtle Rescue Team
What to Do if You Find an Injured Turtle
- Record the location where you found the turtle; if it’s able to be released after treatment it will be released close to where it was found
- Call the Turtle Rescue Team at 919-397-9675 and leave a message; they will call you back. You can also email firstname.lastname@example.org
- The TRT will consult with you and determine if the turtle needs to be brought in. If the injury is old or minor they may advise you to not interfere.
- If after consultation the TRT wants to see the turtle you must transport it to their clinic at the NCSU Vet School in Raleigh. They are open seven days a week but you MUST talk with the TRT in advance to arrange a time to drop off a turtle!
- When you drop the turtle off you fill out a form with the location and other info and you are given the option to release it if you want (if it survives and is able to be rehabilitated) but this is not required.
- They intake the turtle and assign it a case number and a name.
- Please consider giving them a donation if you can when you drop off the turtle because it costs money to provide care and they rely primarily on donations.
- The turtle is assessed and provided pain medication, fluids, and antibiotics if needed; the team administers wound care and any other testing or treatment.
- Once the turtle has made it through the first phase of intensive treatment and is stabilized, it’s placed with a volunteer rehabber while it continues to heal; this frees up space in the clinic for critical patients.
- Once the turtle is cleared for release a volunteer will release it close to where it was found.
Want to Support the Turtle Rescue Team?
- The Turtle Rescue Team relies primarily on donations to fund the clinic.
- VIsit their website to support the Turtle Rescue Team
- Interested in becoming a rehabber or helping with release? Email email@example.com
- Visit the TRT website or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information
- Follow the Turtle Rescue Team on social media for regular updates!
Tips for Assisting Turtles Across the Road
- First tip: slow down and don’t drive distracted!
- If you see a turtle in the road or on the shoulder about to cross, pull off the road and put your emergency lights on.
- Be mindful of where you stop so that if cars swerve to go around you it doesn’t put them in the path of the turtle.
- Pick up the turtle and put it across the road and off the shoulder in the direction they were headed (if you put them back where they came from they will just try and cross again).
- For large snapping turtles, to avoid getting bit, pick them up at the back of the shell near their hind legs and tail (see photo above). I carry a shovel in my car during the busy turtle season to help nudge snappers along from the rear; I’ve also used the floor mat from my truck in a pinch. Lifting them up by their tail can cause a spinal cord injury and should only be done as a last resort if they are in imminent danger.
- Do not try to straddle snappers by driving over them thinking your tires will miss them…they often defensively rise up and that’s how their shell is damaged.
- BE SAFE! Do not jeopardize your safety or try to block traffic to help a turtle; this can have deadly consequences.