“Rescue” is a word that we hear a lot at Carolina Box Turtles. “We rescued it out of the road. Can you help?” A Box Turtle in the road, unless the Box Turtle has visible injuries (i.e. busted or cracked shell, blood, or any noticeable trauma), they do not need us to rescue it, they need us to help them. Just place the turtle out of harm’s way, in the direction it is facing. Instead of only placing it on the shoulder of the road, make sure to take the turtle about 12′ or more off of the road. This will help prevent other car encounters and roadside mower encounters.
If the Box Turtle does show signs of distress or injury, gently pick up the turtle, keeping your fingers away from the head area. Box Turtles do not typically bite, but it always pays to be careful. When placed in a vehicle, if able, place the turtle in a box or on top of an article of clothing, in a location where it won’t fall off a seat or dash board. Write down the exact location for where you picked up the turtle so that we or another rehabilitator can return the turtle to his or her home range.
“I rescued this turtle out of the woods next to a stream. I was worried it would fall in and drown.” “I rescued this turtle out of the stream. It’s not a water turtle. It would have drowned had I not rescued it.”
Box Turtles in the woods rarely need to be rescued or helped. On rare occasions you may find one damaged by an animal, but it’s rare. If you come across one in the woods while on a hike or just exploring, just take in the beauty of this majestic creatures in their natural habitat, take photos, memories, and just the joy, but please don’t take the Box Turtle. If it’s on a wide trail, go ahead and help it to cross, especially if it is just sitting on the trail. If dogs are allowed on the trail, take it a little piece on off the trail. Some dogs see a Box Turtle as a play toy, or even worse, a chew toy. Dogs are capable of crushing a Box Turtle’s shell and eating them. And yes, some dog owners allow their dogs to do just that. While it’s not illegal to let this happen, it is not good for the future of the Box Turtles. Some dog owners will make the claim, “It’s natural for my dog to eat a Box Turtle.” Until Fish and Game places your Husky, St. Bernard, or Labradoodle in the hunting regulations digest as a fur bearer and places a season on them, it is not natural for your dog to knowingly eat a Box Turtle.
Box Turtles are not water turtles, but Box Turtles can be found in water ways for all types of reasons. However, this does not mean that you can throw one off a bridge and it will be fine. Box Turtles love to soak in water and are often times completely submerged. Because Box Turtles are actually adept swimmers, Box Turtles can be found soaking in streams, especially after winter hibernation, to rehydrate themselves. Box Turtles have also been known to go in to streams after toads, crawdads, tadpoles, and salamanders. Box Turtles are also known to seek out water to soak in if they are or are becoming ill from various conditions. When you see a Box Turtle in a creek, let him enjoy his soak and continue on.
“I rescued these box turtles from a pet shop/reptile show/flea market. What’s the best way to release them?”
First, any turtle kept as a pet or in captivity for large amounts of time, should never be released into the wild. Reptiles held for 90 days can harbor new viruses and pathogens that can decimate a native population. There is no way of knowing where these captive turtles have come from. They may not have even come from your state. Most turtles from pet shops, reptile shows, and shady salesmen are almost always wild caught. While buying these turtles you may think you are saving them, but you are only killing others. As soon as all the establishment’s turtles are sold, they will only replace them to make another dollar. The best way to help these guys is to educate people not to buy Box Turtles and to not support them in the pet trade. The best place to look for a pet Box Turtle is to seek them out from Box Turtle rescues and other groups that have them for adoption.
Before “rescue” flashes in your head when you encounter a Box Turtle, ask yourself, “Does the turtle need you to rescue it or only ‘help’ it?”