SPRING WEATHER BRINGS OUT THE TURTLES
Box turtles are coming out of hibernation and will soon be crossing roads looking for nesting sites. An Indiana law, effective October 23, 2004, prohibits the collection of eastern box turtles from the wild in Indiana. This law was not intended to prevent a child from picking up a box turtle in their yard, a state park, or a state forest to examine it. Nor is it intended to prevent people from helping a turtle cross a road, taking an injured turtle to a rehabilitator, or otherwise moving any turtle a short distance out of harm’s way. This regulation is intended to prevent people from putting a turtle in an aquarium or terrarium in their home, from putting it in their car and taking it on a 3-hour drive to release it in their woodlot, or from taking it to sell to other people.
Taking box turtles from the wild to be kept as a pet is never a good idea.
Collection is detrimental to box turtle populations. The loss of habitat and an increasing number of roads through their habitat are also contributing to their decline. Zack Walker, the State Herpetologist, reports, “We now are aware of how detrimental incidental collection and displacement is to the population and it is essential that it does not continue as it has in the past.” Low animal numbers in populations prevent adequate contact between males and females.
Additionally, we now know that box turtles have a homing instinct. Turtles displaced by humans will instinctively attempt to return to their home, often times forcing them to travel through unsafe conditions. The new law requires a special purpose turtle possession permit, free of charge, to possess an eastern box turtle that was obtained lawfully. A box turtle can be obtained in one of the following ways: as a gift from someone who already has box turtles under a special purpose turtle possession permit in Indiana, from another state (if obtained lawfully).
Already, the Division of Fish and Wildlife has issued over 100 permits to possess more than 400 eastern box turtles (Terrapene carolina) and their subspecies. The majority were collected from the wild.
Here’s what you can do to help:
1) Drive with care. If you can safely do so, move turtles found on or near the road in the direction they’re headed. Watch out for turtles soaking in potholes on back roads. Obey speed limits to allow appropriate stopping time if a turtle is on the road.
2) Mow with care. When mowing your lawn, look out for turtles, especially at dawn or dusk. Either mow often and keep your lawn short or set your mower blades at their highest setting. Walk the area to be mowed first to move turtles out of harm’s way.
3) Protect and promote turtle habitat on your own land. Provide shelter areas such as brush and leaf piles, but keep them away from roads. Leave leaf litter and fallen woody debris on the forest floor. Do not burn large areas or brush piles during peak activity times for turtles. Plant dense roadside buffers, such as evergreens or any thick hedge, to help keep turtles from crossing a road. Provide sunny clearings where they can bask for warmth. Protect wet soils such as small wetlands and keep or provide sources of food such as wild blackberries, wild strawberries, and an assortment of insects and fungi.
4) Don’t allow dogs to roam free in areas where box turtles and their nests may be found.
5) Eliminate or severely limit the use of pesticides and herbicides. These reduce the sources of food available to a box turtle.
6) Leave turtles in their natural habitat. Enjoy seeing them in the wild and count it a privilege. Help ensure that future generations can see them in the wild. Don’t move them to other areas.
7) Contribute to or assist organizations that preserve land to protect natural resources (e.g. Indiana Non-game Fund, Indiana Heritage Trust Foundation, Nature Conservancy, Ducks Unlimited and others).
8) Educate others about the importance of protecting turtles in the wild. Educate neighborhood kids about leaving turtles where they see them
9) Report any collection or sale of box turtles to the Division of Fish and Wildlife at 317-232-4080 or the Division of Law Enforcement at 317-232-4010. This can be done anonymously.
If you find an injured turtle:
Sick or slightly injured box turtles should be left in the wild. Box turtles are surprisingly resilient to damage and disease. If left alone, they might be able to heal themselves.
If a box turtle appears greatly injured, it can be given to a licensed rehabilitator or licensed veterinarian, but it can be possessed for no more than a few hours in order to transport it to a licensed facility. Note the precise location where the turtle was found (street address or landmarks). This will be important information when the turtle is released. Box turtles have a strong homing instinct and need to be released as close as possible to where they were found.
You can obtain the name(s) of licensed rehabilitators in your area by contacting one of the following:
Call 1-800-893-4116 during business hours
Call your law enforcement district headquarters or regional headquarters (after hours – in the north, call 765-473-9722; in the south, call 812-837-9536)
Call the DNR, Division of Fish and Wildlife, in Indianapolis at 317-232-4080
Check the DNR/USDA – Wildlife Services Website: <www.entm.purdue.edu/wildlife/wild.htm> (Click on “Indiana Wildlife Rehabilitators”)
Call a licensed veterinarian for immediate assistance
If the turtle is severely injured, place the turtle in a sturdy, high-sided box or container. Keep the container clean, place newspaper in the bottom, and change it when soiled. Keep the turtle free from flies. Keep the turtle in a warm location, but not in a closed vehicle or pick-up truck in direct sunlight. Minimize stress and secure the turtle by keeping a lid on the container or box and keeping the box closed. Do not offer any food. Wash your hands after handling the turtle to guard against Salmonella.
If you find a nesting turtle, nest or eggs:
Leave them alone. If a nesting turtle is encountered, do not approach the nest. Box turtles can easily be scared away from nesting sites. Box turtles may start digging many nesting sites before deciding on a suitable area. You can put a mesh fence around a nest to protect the eggs from predators. This enclosure should be checked daily to ensure that newly emerging turtles are not caught. Do not try to excavate a box turtle nest on your own. Disturbing the position of turtle eggs may kill the turtle embryo. If you see a nest that is about to be destroyed because of new development, you may contact a local rehabilitator for assistance. A licensed rehabilitator may be able to raise the young and release them back into the wild. However, it may not be possible to save every nest.