Often confused as a tortoise, one of our most endearing creatures that we commonly come across is the eastern long-necked turtle. With one of the wettest spring and early summer periods, Wildcare has been busier than normal with 40 injured turtles rescued in the past four months. These injured turtles were often picked up and handed into Wildcare by members of the public. Normally Wildcare rehabilitates only about 35 turtles in a year. So, the increase in numbers could be due to wetter than normal weather or maybe it is people being more aware of wildlife and knowing what to do.
Recognising and assisting these turtles on the road at times may be difficult. Speeding along at 100km/hr does not give much time to react to a turtle loitering on the road—or realise that “rock” on the road is actually moving. A lot of turtles (and lizards) get squished or injured, but more and more drivers are performing U-turns to get back to either safely remove animals from danger or to check for injuries.
To avoid getting ‘scented’, gently scoop up the turtle by carefully putting your hands exactly where your instincts say not to put them: right in front of the head and tail. Do not worry about its head—that will pop into its shell. Turtles are shy and do not bite. If the turtle is healthy, then pick it up (front and back)—hold them at arm’s length, and release it as far off the road as possible, in the direction it was already going.
Turtles are termed ‘Pleurodira’ or ‘side-necked’ turtles, meaning they fold their head into the side of their shell—tucked as far under their “veranda” as possible, instead of retracting it inwards like other turtle or tortoise species. As many would know, our smiling snake-necked friends are more likely to dissuade you from picking them up by releasing a pungent orange liquid from their scent glands just in front of their back legs. That is why we pick up the animal from the front and back, not from the side. Turtles are tough critters and can remain alive for hours or even days after receiving a fatal crack to their shell, so it is worth checking injured animals. With badly injured turtles, they need to go to a vet to be euthanaised. If a shell crack is minor, Wildcare has volunteers that are trained to fix the break and it will regrow and fuse back together over time.
If you are squeamish, a tip is to have an old towel in the boot of your car. This can be used to throw over a turtle (lizard or other small non-venomous animal); then scoop it up to move off the road or hold if you need to get help. Finally, please watch out for our rock-like friends on the roads and have the 24-7 Wildcare helpline (02 6299 1966) in your phone to get help and advice.