Do you remember the female Eastern Box Turtle that I found upside down on the Dulles Greenway in May? Well I have good news!
In case you missed the story here’s a recap…..
It was about 7am and I had just finished the interview for the most excellent Dulles Greenway Drive for Charity, and was heading home. As I sped by one of the exits (not speeding, but you know what I mean), I caught sight of what looked like a turtle…an upside down Eastern Box Turtle. My heart sank.
Here’s the discussion that went on in my head…..”Was that a rock or a turtle? Hmmm….probably a rock…but what if it’s a turtle? If it’s a turtle then it’s upside down and that never ends well…it’s probably crushed and dead….but what if it’s not dead? Yea, what if it’s not dead!? But upside down generally doesn’t go well…But what if it’s still alive and what if this just happened? and what if it needs help?..well then I should go back and help it….but what if it’s a rock? well…but what if it’s a turtle?”
With the debate settling down on what to do, I was coming up on the next exit so I took that, got off the Greenway going west, got back on going east, then got back on going west in order to get back to that same exit. I definitely contributed to the Drive for Charity that day
I got ready, came up on the place that I saw it, and pulled over to the breakdown lane. It was a turtle!
Upon getting her, and seeing that she was still alive, I called the Blue Ridge Wildlife Center and asked if I could bring her over. Here she is being admitted (May 16th)
Then time passed….I was wondering how she was doing but was nervous to ask so I just waited. I knew she was in good hands. And then, last week I got “the call”…..Your Turtle is ready to be released!
When I turned her over to the Blue Ridge Wildlife Center, I wrote down what exit I had found her at. Eastern Box turtles must be returned to their home territory or they won’t survive. They are incredibly faithful to their home site and if removed, they will not know where food, shelter, hibernation places or other resources are that they need to live. Instead they will roam and roam trying to find their home site. Very sad.
So, I knew I needed to bring her back, but obviously not to the highway. So, I used Google earth and from that, her home habitat was clear. There is still a nice big tract of woods with a stream running through it adjacent to the exit where I found her.
So I brought her back there, and released her on the area of the property that was well away from the highway in hopes that she won’t venture that way again. Here she is healthy, except for a slightly limpy leg and very happy to return home. (So much so that she wouldn’t sit for photos – she was on the move! As shown by my blurry action shot!
The Blue Ridge Wildlife Center and other wildlife rehabbers across our area do amazing work. They are such a wonderful, caring, dedicated group of people. (Thank you all!) I hope all the animals in their care have many happy returns!
The months of April, May, and June are nesting seasons for many turtles. Female aquatic turtles leave the water to find terrestrial nesting sites, and this often requires crossing a road.
Helping a turtle move across the road can be the difference between life and death for the animal, and even for future generations when considering gravid (egg-bearing) females.
However, assisting a turtle should be done ONLY WHEN IT IS SAFE to stop, pull over to the shoulder (if you are driving), and move the turtle across the road. Do not attempt to stop traffic; your safety comes first.
Snapping turtles can be large, heavy, and feisty, so if you are unable to “shoo” them across the road, pick them up by the back of their shells, NOT by their tail (which can damage their spinal cord) to avoid a bite.
Always keep the turtle pointed in the direction it’s going, even if that direction is away from water. It knows better than us where it wants to go!
Keep an eye out for Box Turtles and report your sightings to the Virginia Herpetological Society on their Box Turtle Reporting Form.
Data we provide will provide insights into Box Turtle populations — of particular importance is to enter sightings of both live and dead turtles.
Unfortunately, the majority of Box Turtles I encounter each spring are along the Greenway and other roads and they’ve been either hit by cars or are already dead.
If you see one in the breakdown lane, you can safely move them if they’re alive. If they’ve been injured, take them to a local wildlife rehabber — sometimes they can be saved. If you encounter one in your lawn area, please be careful with the mower so not to run them over.
Remember, as you encounter Box Turtles, it’s very important not to take them out of their home range. They are very faithful to their territory.
This article is very applicable to us here in Loudoun, not only because we border West Virginia but also because Wood Turtles and other turtle species live in our midst and we should all be aware of the devastating effects of taking turtles out of their natural habitat.
Turtle and Tortoise Newsletter Issue Number 15 – January 2011 (Chelonian Research Foundation)
Federal Sting Nets Reptile Trader With 108 North American Wood Turtles in West Virginia Glenn Hollowell PO Box 971, Cordova, Alaska 99574 USA [glenn@...]
On 3 June 2008, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF) was contacted by United States Fish and Wildlife (USFWS) officers based in Martinsburg, West Virginia and requested to be on the lookout for the subject of a surveillance operation suspected of harvesting wild turtles from publicly and privately owned land for sale in the pet trade.
At approximately 1:00 PM, a DGIF Conservation Police Officer stopped a white KIA Sedona minivan heading south on Route 81 driven by Michael P. Ellard of Estero, Florida. Mr Ellard is the owner of two reptile wholesale and export businesses in Florida, “Burgundy Reptile Traders” and “Russian Reptiles”. Found in the van (Fig. 1) were 108 North American wood turtles (NAWTs, Glyptemys insculpta) (Fig. 2), 4 Eastern box turtles (Terrapene carolina carolina), and 6 common snapping turtles (Chelydra serpentina).
Mr Ellard was previously convicted of violations in West Virginia and other states involving the illegal harvest of reptiles and was considered by wildlife enforcement officials to be a “person of interest”. Two other men also involved in this case were in the vehicle and apprehended at that time. Both of Mr Ellard’s businesses had previously been in possession of USFWS import/export licenses and held CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) export permits for a number of species.
Mr Ellard pled guilty to these charges on 31 July 2009. Ellard and his associates were charged with violating the Lacey Act for their participation in the illegal capture and transportation of protected reptiles. The Lacey Act prohibits trade in wildlife, fish, and plants that have been illegally taken, possessed, transported, or sold.
Mr Ellard was sentenced in US District Court in Martinsburg, West Virginia, on 10 December 2009 by US District Court Judge John Bailey to serve 1 year of home detention and 5 years of probation and pay $12,000 in restitution. In August 2009, one of Mr Ellard’s associates was sentenced to 5 months in federal prison, 5 months of home detention, and 1 year of supervised probation. The third man has not yet been sentenced due to current incarceration in Florida on unrelated offenses. All 3 men pled guilty to one count under separate plea agreements.
Of the 108 Wood Turtles confiscated, 1 died while in captivity and the remaining 107 were released into the watershed that Mr Ellard had collected them from. The eastern box and snapping turtles were released as well. These animals had an estimated value of $35,000 in US reptile markets and more than ten times that much in Japanese markets.
The USFWS Office in Hadley, Massachusetts, provided background information. Prior to this incident, in November 2008 Mr Ellard pled guilty in North Carolina state court to charges relating to his apprehension by North Carolina Wildlife Enforcement officers while he was commercially harvesting spotted turtles (Clemmys guttata) for later sale in the pet trade. Spotted turtles are a protected species in North Carolina. Mr Ellard was charged with 1)possession of wildlife for sale and 2) taking of a wild animal on a protected wild animal list.
At the time of this arrest, Mr Ellard was also in possession of one North American wood turtle
that he indicated he had captured just previously in West Virginia. North American wood turtles are a highly sought after species by reptile collectors in the United States and abroad. According to advertisements on Kingsnake.com turtle classifieds (http://market.kingsnake.com/index.php?cat=39), full grown adult Wood Turtles are frequently sold as breeding pairs in online classifieds for $500–$750. The majority of these are offered without proof that they are captive bred and not wild caught.
In Japan, according to a Japanese Wood Turtle auction site (http://www.dizzypoint.co.jp/showcase/detail/2150), NAWTs have a current value (as of 2 January 2010) of $3,786 dollars each in Tokyo. North American wood turtles were given CITES Appendix II protection in 1992 and are thereby identified as a “species of concern”. These are species that are not necessarily threatened with extinction but may become so unless trade in specimens of such species is subject to strict regulation in order to avoid utilization incompatible with their survival.
International trade in specimens of Appendix II species may be authorized by the granting of an export permit according to the CITES website(http://www.cites.org). CITES permits are issued on a per species basis to sellers; consequently, it is unlikely that a single NAWT opportunistically removed from a stream in New England would end up in Japan the following week.
However, at current prices Mr Ellard’s methodical harvest could have been worth several hundred thousand dollars to wholesalers in Japan. Other species such as the Spotted Turtle not covered under the CITES Treaty may be collected by smaller operators, and they show up on Japanese websites in large numbers in the spring, selling for upwards of $3000 for a male and female adult pair. Many of these are scarred, rough looking, and appear wild caught. Some also have what appear to be deep notches filed in their marginal scutes, an indicator that these may have not only been wild-caught, but also involved in population studies prior to their capture as this is often a method used to identify individual turtles (personal communication, Kevin [Matsutaro] Leahy).
North American wood turtles occur in the northeastern and upper midwestern United States and portions of Canada. The population of this species is recognized as declining throughout its range. In the latter 19th and early 20th century, this decline was due primarily to habitat loss and fragmentation resulting from agricultural development and expanding urbanization.
Mid to late 20th century population declines are attributed to waterway pollution, increasing road construction, and focused collection by biological supply houses and the pet trade. Since the 1970s, collection for the pet trade has increased significantly. Commercial collectors time their harvest to coincide with the turtles’ emergence from hibernation while they are still congregated in rivers and streams.
Collectors in Pennsylvania and New York have harvested several hundred turtles from less than a mile of stream. This has resulted in the extirpation of this species from areas where it used to be prolific. As a result, the distribution is now more discontinuous than it once was, and gene flow has likely been severely impacted in most areas of this species range.
Collection for pet trade is the major threat to the survival of wood turtles. Nesting success generally is very low with egg predators taking a heavy toll. The majority of these predators— skunks, raccoons, and opossums—are human-subsidized species that have experienced significant population and range size increases over the last century.
One report conservatively estimated egg and hatchling mortality at 98%. Consequently, many populations in areas close to human activity may consist of 80%–85% adults, while remote populations can have populations with significantly more subadults.
Reproductive success depends on a high rate of adult survival, long-lived adults that reproduce many times during their lifetime, and the occasional good season when a nest survives.
The combination of late maturity, low reproductive success, and long-lived adults results in a population structure skewed heavily toward adults.
These characteristics combine to delay the detection of population declines and to reduce the ability of small, declining populations to recover. Population biology (late maturity combined with very low annual juvenile recruitment) limits recovery potential and heightens vulnerability to over-collection. Low mobility (e.g., relative to birds) and tendency to home reduce probability of recolonization of decimated populations. These characteristics necessitate early response to indications of decline.
Recovery of North American Wood Turtles to historical levels is highly unlikely because significant habitat has been permanently lost to urban and agricultural development and as the result of habitat fragmentation. According to the Nature Serve comprehensive species report (http://www.natureserve. org/explorer/), if commercial collection was stopped in much of its range, the wood turtle would require little active protection or management to remain secure.
2011 Year of the Turtle Turtle conservation groups in partnership with PARC (Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation) are designating 2011 as the Year of the Turtle and Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy has joined this partnership. (I know, according to the Chinese calendar, it’s the year of the rabbit. Rabbits are important too but our local rabbit species are doing ok — turtles need our attention)
Why Turtles, and Why Now? Turtles are disappearing from the planet faster than birds, mammals, and even amphibians. Today, over 40% of turtle species are identified as threatened with extinction; the primary threats are human-caused. However, it’s not too late for our turtle heritage to be salvaged. The United States has more endemic turtle species than anywhere on Earth; a turtle biodiversity hotspot. Our careful stewardship can preserve the rare species and keep ‘common species common.’
Throughout the year, we will be raising awareness of the issues surrounding turtles through our Habitat Herald articles, blog posts, photo contests, programs and related events.
Through this broader partnership being formed, the hope is that citizens, natural resource managers, scientists, and the pet and food and related industries will work together to address issues and to help ensure long-term survival of turtle species and populations.
Supporting Partners (to date) include (and will not be limited to): Turtle Conservancy, Turtle Survival Alliance, IUCN Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Survival Group, US Fish & Wildlife Service International Affairs, Chelonian Research Foundation, Turtle Conservation Fund, AZA Chelonian Taxonomic Advisory Group, SUNY ESF, Virginia Herpetological Society, Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy… and the list keeps growing!
Bookmark www.yearoftheturtle.org, and check it often for more information on how YOU can get involved! I will also continue to post information here on the blog as it is made available.
Sign up for PARC’s monthly newsletters by sending an email to YearOfTheTurtle2011@gmail.com. The newsletter contains:
· A downloadable turtle photo calendar for each month, including a photo contest – your photo could be in the calendar
· Information about turtle conservation efforts and groups
· Interviews with turtle experts, and answers to selected questions that you send in
· Information on how you can help spread the word about turtles
· Educational materials — how you can teach about turtles
· Featured turtle artwork, poetry, and cultural information
… and much, MUCH, more!
We all love our box turtles, don’t we? Well, we have a chance to help make them our state reptile but your email to our state delegates is needed to make this happen. Here are the emails for Joe May DelJMay@house.state.va.us and David Poisson DelDPoisson@house.virginia.gov. You can find other delegates here. Just a quick note asking them to pass this legislation making the Eastern Box Turtle our state reptile will make a difference and will only take a minute to do (maybe less if you type fast) .
Here’s a great note I received from our local reptile expert, Dennis Desmond, on this subject. He talks about why this status would help our Eastern Box Turtles and what you can do:
For the past several years many people have tried to make the Eastern Box Turtle the state reptile. Recently, Deborah Brehony has been able to make headway in crafting a bill that would make this a reality. Deborah related to me today that this measure has passed the VA Senate and is now headed for the House. I hope you will take a moment to send a note to Virginia’s representatives encouraging them to support this bill.
The Eastern Box turtle has been in Virginia for millions of years, and, although not uniquely tied to Virginia, it is nevertheless a staple of the Virginia environment. Hundreds of adults and children alike have mentioned to u during displays and presentations how they would see box turtles grazing amongst the strawberries in their yards, or how they would stop to move a box turtle from the road as its negotiated the ever increasing and deadly traffic. Unfortunately, several people have also told us that they are seeing fewer and fewer box turtles in their neighborhoods. Because of the rapid pace of development that has been occurring in Virginia for the past two decades, the eastern box turtle is in rapid decline throughout the state and has probably been extirpated from parts of Northern Virginia.
By selecting the Eastern Box Turtle as the state reptile, it will share a special place with other Virginia wildlife including its birds, mammals, and insects and will earn recognition as an important part of the Virginia landscape. While it will not receive special protection, its selection will certainly bring greater attention to the potential loss of this very beautiful and certainly unique member of the reptile family that has made its home in Virginia