Release the Snappers!

About two years ago, I attended a program about turtles hosted by the Pound Ridge Land Conservancy. There presenters from different organizations spoke about various projects and how enthusiasts like me could get involved. Afterwards, I chatted with a local wildlife rehabilitator who specializes in turtles, and she told me that there is always a need for more help, particularly with caring for hatchling turtles over the winter. Sometimes the nests are compromised by predators but a few can be saved; sometimes turtles looking to nest are hit by cars and eggs can be extracted. Baby turtles was a pretty easy sell. I signed up for the wildlife rehabilitator test, took it in March 2018, and by the end of the summer, I had my license in hand.

In October, I took possession of two eastern box turtles (more on them another day) and two common snapping turtles. All of them had shells between 1 and 1.25 in long. The snaplets are aquatic, so I set them up in a tank, adding a bit of plant life from my little outdoor pond.

Over the winter, they grew steadily, developing that unmistakable chubby snapper look. One of them started to show signs of their noteworthy aggression as well, snapping at my fingers at every opportunity, even though they were still bigger than his head. Eventually, I had to separate them.

The goal with taking care of these turtles is to give them a fighting chance at survival. At around three inches long, they could still be a snack for a predator, such as a raccoon, hawk, mink, heron or snake, but they’re a little bigger and tougher now than they were. Last week, it was time to set them free.

With older turtles that have been treated by a rehabilitator, it’s critical to release them exactly where they were found. Many are territorial, and as with most animals, finding food, water and shelter can be challenging in unfamiliar surroundings. These babies had not had any opportunity to forge a relationship with their home, so they were released in good habitat close to where they were collected.

As soon as we arrived at the site, a new mama-to-be greeted us, out to find a place to nest. I think it was a good sign!

When we brought them to the shore, the aggressive one sat very still, taking in his surroundings. The other quickly went towards the water.

Eventually he was joined by his big sibling. They both poked their heads up to look at us before swimming away.

Even though snapping turtles remain common in Westchester and much of the country, I think it’s important to work to offset the damage done by humans through habitat loss and road mortality. I wish you long, snappy lives, little ones!

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