Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Turtles Hitting the Road: Don't Hit Them!

Article adapted from Kansas City InfoZine
Spring may come in fits and starts, but its arrival is verified by a predictable round of firsts. The first flower and the first butterfly are heartening signs of renewal. However, one sign of spring - the first turtle crossing the road - is the harbinger of carnage.
Some species of turtle are homebodies, living out lives of up to 65 years on as little as 5 acres. In the spring, however, they go on the prowl for mates, and this takes them across the highways and byways that divide the state into smaller and smaller pieces each year. More than a few end up under the wheels of automobiles. The result is a population drain.
"Box turtles are such long-lived animals, it takes a long time for them to get to the age where they can reproduce," said Missouri State Herpetologist Jeff Briggler, with the Conservation Department. "Their nests are vulnerable to raccoons and other predators, so females don't produce young every year. It takes a lifetime to replace themselves. With a species like that, anything that takes away a certain percentage of the adults every year can spell serious trouble over the long haul."
Motorists can help reduce highway carnage by watching for turtles and avoiding them. Briggler said drivers have to think of their own safety first, but missing a turtle seldom creates any danger for humans. "You should never slam on your breaks to avoid a turtle," said Briggler, "but if you are paying attention, you usually can see turtles on the road a long way away. Normally you have time to go around a turtle on the shoulder of the roadway. If there is no shoulder and another car is coming toward you, slow down enough to let the other car pass so you can drive around the turtle."
Some drivers actually stop and move turtles to safety on the side of the road they are trying to reach. Briggler encourages this, but again urges caution. "I love turtles, but no turtle is worth taking a chance of being hurt yourself," he said.
Briggler said automobile mishaps are not the only way that humans cause turtle deaths. He said many turtles die in captivity each year. "Turtles are so different from us, they are fascinating. It's actually a good thing that people are interested in them. But like all wild animals, they aren't adapted to living in captivity. Their diets are hard to duplicate, and when they are taken out of their familiar surroundings they have trouble finding food and shelter. As much fun as it is to have one or two around, it's no fun when you discover that one has died."

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