Cape Cod’s Wicked Local reminds us to always return a turtle to the place you found it. Or maybe just leave it alone?
(Photo: Vincent Guadazno. Soucre: Wicked Local Cape cod Top Stories)
But he still wants to go home at the end of the day, which is why wildlife authorities are trying to get out this message: if you are returning a box turtle to the wild, make sure you put him back where you found him.
Box turtles, recognizable by their highly domed, black-and-gold shells, are extremely visible at this time of year as they wander the Outer Cape in search of a sandy spot to nest in, a sunny place to bask in or a shady glade to rest in. They may also wander into trouble. The increasing number of motorists on the road puts them at risk of being struck and injured, resulting in a period of hospitalization at Eastham’s Wild Care or some other animal rehabilitation clinic, and curious children on summer vacation have been known to borrow the turtles from the wild for a few days or weeks, to keep as pets or science projects.
Whatever the cause of their displacement, the important thing is to return the turtles to the place where they were picked up, once they are ready to be released, says Ruth Ann Cowing, Provincetown’s animal control officer. Box turtles have a home range to which they are faithful, and if they are placed out of their range they will be forced to wander longer than is good for them.
Cowing recently tended to the release of a male box turtle on Fortuna Road in Provincetown’s East End, the same spot where the turtle had been found on May 21 with an injury to his right rear leg. He spent three weeks recuperating at Wild Care, where he received stitches, antibiotics and regular meals of salad greens and mealworms and was taken outside to graze on the lawn.
As comfortable as his home away from home may have been, it was no substitute for his own patch of woods in Provincetown, says Wild Care director Stephanie Ellis, who discharged the turtle on June 12.
“If you were to relocate [box turtles], which is illegal, they will travel miles to get back to their original destination,” Ellis says.
A common mistake people make is picking a box turtle up off the road, to prevent it from being hit by a car, and then taking it to a pond or letting it go in some other location far from where they found it, Ellis says. Neither scenario is salutary for the turtle. Box turtles are terrestrial, not aquatic, so dropping them in a pond won’t really help them, and carrying them off their path will just make it harder for them to get where they were intending to go.
If you see a box turtle crossing the road, just move it across the road and point it in the direction it was already headed, Ellis says.