If during your travels in a motor vehicle, on a ATV, on a bike or on foot you spot a turtle that has been recently struck by a motor vehicle that you may think is dead or beyond hope. It is your call how you handle this situation but we ask that you please read the following thoroughly and that it weighs in your decision of how to best handle this type of turtle encounter.
Turtles have a very unique body chemistry. They have a slow metabolism that can result in it taking days, weeks or longer for a turtle to actually succumb to injuries sustained by a motor vehicle strike, meaning a slow and agonizing death. In the case of a fresh strike we as concerned citizens 'do not' have the medical expertise to determine if a turtle is truly DEAD. It would take vet or individuals specifically trained in such matters to accurately determine when and if a turtle is DEAD. A turtles shell could be cracked and broken in many pieces and there may be internal injuries but even in this horrible state a turtle can remain ALIVE. The determination that a turtles heart has stopped often requires an ECG to accurately determine this.
Rather then an injured turtle being left at a roadside or in a ditch to slowly succumb to the heat of the sun, dehydration and pain from injuries sustained the kindest thing that could be done for a turtle in this circumstance is to call the Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre (OTCC) home of Ontario's turtle hospital at 705-741-5000. Their trained staff will assess the situation. This could result in arrangements for the turtle to be admitted to the OTCC or referred to the nearest first response team that is licensed and trained to administer pain medication while arrangements are made for the turtle to be transferred to the OTCC.
Unfortunately, the final outcome in these circumstances may possibly result in euthanization but thankfully the turtle would no longer be suffering. If the turtle is a female she may be carrying eggs. In such cases the OTCC medical team would extract the eggs and if viable they would then be incubated and later it is hoped there will be hatchings to be released at the point of origin where the mother turtle was originally located. As the finder you would have the option of being notified of hatchlings being ready for release and be invited to share in that if you choose to.
NOT ALL VETS TREAT TURTLES
Please do not assume that a private animal clinic, wildlife rehabilitator or animal shelter in the area you are located or may be visiting will admit a turtle or is trained to offer turtle first aid or treatment. It is always best to call the OTCC to speak with them about the injured turtle you have found. OTCC works in conjunction with over '35' licensed First Response Centres being private animal clinics and wildlife rehabilitators throughout Ontario that are trained in 'basic' turtle first aid and pain management. All injured turtles should be reported to the OTCC.
When you speak with the OTCC staff they will assess the circumstances and determine the best course of action for the injured turtle or as may be the case concerns regarding turtle eggs/nest. If necessary they will direct you to the nearest First Response Centre with an individual or team able to administer basic first aid and/or pain management and temporarily admit the turtle until arrangements can be made to have the turtle transferred to the OTCC. The availability of each First Response individual or team varies, many volunteer their services so when OTCC has referred you to a First Response Centre please call the private animal clinic and/or wildlife rehabilitator you were referred to prior to going there to arrange a drop-off time.
IMPORTANT NOTE ABOUT INJURED TURTLES
If you find an injured turtle ‘NEVER’ attempt to treat an injured Ontario turtle no matter how mild you may think an injury is or how knowledgeable you feel you are when it comes to administering first aid. The turtle may have sustained internal injuries that can only be detected by a veterinarian and x-ray. Please call the Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre (OTCC) Hotline at 705-741-5000 no matter where you are located in Ontario.
It is illegal to remove a turtle from the wild or have a turtle species native to Ontario in your possession and for someone not officially qualified and registered with the province to treat injured Ontario turtles. Although the idea of using information or products you have read about treating injured turtles on the internet or social media may seem like something most anyone can do. It is far from that and should ‘NEVER’ be attempted or used by anyone other than a fully qualified veterinarian trained in such practices.
The improper use or application of techniques/products sourced from the internet runs the risk of causing further harm to an injured turtle and can even result in death. Preventing an injured turtle from getting proper medical attention equates to cruelty and abuse and can be reported to the Provincial Animal Welfare Services (PAWS) 1-833-9-ANIMAL (1-833-926-4625). Please leave any and all turtle related medical treatments to qualified veterinarians. Thank you.
Blanding's turtle treated for shell injury. Photo: Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre
BE PREPARED FOR ALL TURTLE ENCOUNTERS
If you will be stopping to assist turtles across the road and/or retrieve injured turtles from the road this is made easier and less stressful if you are prepared ahead of time with a supply of items that would be commonly used in such circumstances.
Some items to consider including are: a large plastic storage tote with a lid and air holes in the lid that you can use to put all your roadside rescue supplies in. It doubles as a container that is a suitable size to transport an injured snapping turtle should the need arise. The larger the container you are able to store in your vehicle the greater your chances of being able to accommodate various sized turtles.
In your turtle roadside rescue kit it is recommended you include: gloves, disinfectant wipes, a high visibility safety vest is a must, a smaller plastic container with a lid with air holes to transport smaller turtles like painted turtles, a towel or rags, a small silicone cutting board to slide under small turtles like a gurney, notepad & pen to record point of origin details, a small safety pylon perhaps 2 with experience you will find there may be other items you want to add. Each person's turtle roadside rescue kit will vary. If you do not have the space for a large container then a sturdy cardboard box flattened down that can be re-assembled if needed would suffice. If using cardboard boxes please make sure they are well ventilated.