Chopped turtles find refuge

Even the smallest of the animals need to be cared for is the approach of Beth Walton, assistant professor of geography. Walton is new to the region and became interested in counting the number of box turtles that are native to the region but had not been studied in depth.

Walton holds a box turtle that will be returned after the winter.

“Worldwide, there is a decline in turtles. They are declining because of human consumption—eating them for food and for medicinal purposes—and pet trade demands as well as habitat loss,” Walton stated. “Seeing this and seeing that it is human-induced made me feel a little more responsible for our role in their plight.”

Walton, who began her research on the SIUE campus by putting out live traps, was surprised at the number of turtles that were found. As the turtles are discovered in the traps, they are brought into the lap, weighed, measured and marked as a way to track the population. The turtles are tagged and then returned to where they were trapped.

One student that has worked with Walton on this project is Jill Maes. Maes, a senior geography student who used the research as part of her senior project, helped build the traps.

“She (Maes) has been phenomenal in the amount of work she put into it,” Walton declared. “The level of the professionalism that she addressed these issues with—sometimes the traps would be trampled by deer and she would bring them in and fix them, and put them right back.”

Walton holds a female box turtle that was hit by a bush hog this summer.

“Maes built 20 traps and checked each of  them for 184 days in a row, brought trapped turtles in to weigh, measure and mark them, and then put them back into the environment,” Walton said.

Other students are also involved in the project. Some students help rehabilitate the turtles. Another student is tracking the tagged turtles. Another will be working with the TreeHouse Wildlife Center and 31 years worth of collected data on sick and injured animals of all sorts, including turtles.

In this region, most turtles are injured by farmers, property owners and road crews that mow down vegetation with bush hogs. The turtles are usually brought to Walton by veterinarians and concerned citizens.

“When people mow, if the blades are really low, then they can hit these turtles. When the turtles stand up, they are about six inches off the ground. Sometimes these blades are just low enough to shave them,” Walton said.

A turtle that is mostly recovered from a mowing accident.

“If we could encourage folks to lift those blades … they are still going to knock down the woody vegetation … it would be enough to clear these turtles,” said Walton.

“Here on campus, when they started mowing (this past spring), they were mowing really close to my research site. I called over to Facilities Management and they were wonderful, absolutely wonderful,’ Walton expressed. “They raised the blades—Kenny Porter was just wonderful about … moving away from our area until we finished trapping.”

A turtle in rehab chows down on a nightcrawler.

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