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Turtle tips

Some know her as the town clerk for the Town of Tusten, NY. Others might cite her extensive eagle work with the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation. But Kathy Michell, a NYS licensed wildlife rehabilitator and president of the NY Center for Turtle Rehabilitation and Conservation, also has a personal passion for turtles and rattlesnakes, both of which she has studied and rehabilitated for return to the wild.

The Upper Delaware River region is fortunate to have such a skilled and dedicated caretaker in its midst, and I recently enjoyed the opportunity to go turtle-tracking with Michell and her son, Tom. More on that in my next column on June 17.

In this column, Michell provides some timely turtle tips for readers who encounter turtles on the move due to nesting and egg-laying activities. Top turtle tip: If you spot a turtle crossing a road and want to help, be sure to move it in the direction it was heading, even if a body of water lies in the opposite direction. (See photo captions for other tips). If you find an injured turtle, contact Michell at 845/252-3501.

- Sandy Long

TRR photo by Sandy Long
Michell recently released eight turtles she rehabilitated. Most were the victims of automobile encounters which damaged their top shell, or carapace. Michell cleans the wounds, then provides ongoing care as the turtle’s shell slowly heals. This snapping turtle has recovered enough to resume life in the wild. (Click for larger version)
TRR photo by Sandy Long
Snapping turtles play important roles in the health of regional waterways by consuming large amounts of vegetation and contributing helpful bacteria that create cleaner water. While most turtles can be safely handled, snapping turtles have powerful jaws and long necks that put handlers at greater risk. The safest way to move a snapper off the road is by using a snow shovel, and that is the method recommended for non-experts. Here, Michell demonstrates the technique for lifting one manually, by grasping its shell just in front of the rear legs. Her face is away from the turtle’s head and she lifts the turtle only a foot away from the ground in case she needs to set it down quickly. Number one no-no: never lift a snapper by its tail, a practice which can cause irreparable harm to its spine. (Click for larger version)
TRR photo by Sandy Long
Michell displays the lower shell, or plastron, of a snapping turtle. (Click for larger version)
TRR photo by Sandy Long
Although turtles, such as this painted turtle, can be quite beautiful, resist the urge to relocate them to your backyard pond. Turtles are semi-aquatic creatures with specific habitat needs. Likewise, never release a pet turtle into the wild. (Click for larger version)