On Wednesday afternoon, I was headed out of my neighborhood for an appointment. Behind where I live in Overland Park, KS is a large holding pond that is fed by a natural spring and run-off area across a road called, Tomahawk Creek Parkway. It is a four lane “back road” typically only used by neighborhood residents and speeders looking for a short cut. I frequently see Blue Heron, Ducks and Geese in this area and we have a reported coyote roaming the area.

I turned out of my complex and about 1/2 block later, saw something big in the road. I swerved to avoid it, drove to the next curb cut and did a u-turn. I drove back to the object at the same time a women walking her dog was coming up adjacent to the object from the side of the road. I parked my car, turned on my flashers (as I was now in the middle of the road, blocking traffic) and got out of my car. In front of me, unmoving, was a turtle. It was bleeding and had obviously been hit by a car. Since we were between two wetlands, I suspected we were dealing with a Snapping Turtle and so, was none-too-anxious to get an appendage very close to the turtle’s mouth! This was NOT a small turtle! The women with her dog asked if it was alive. I touched its backside and it turned its head to see what was going on. I believe it was at that moment that both of us decided to do something to help...

I was driving a rental as my car was in the shop and had nothing to place the turtle inside. The woman’s dog really wanted to get to the turtle so she couldn’t come any closer. After searching my car for a transport device and coming up empty-handed, the woman suggested I go down the street to a local veterinary clinic, get a box and ask where we could take the turtle for help. I agreed and she stayed by the side of the road, routing traffic around the injured turtle.

Returning with the box and once again, parking alongside the turtle in the middle of the street, the turtle craned her neck to look at me as I exited the car. I knelt down, open the top of the too-small box and, without hesitation, in she crawled! About a third of her hung out onto the box flap. I gently lifted her into my trunk and closed the lid. The woman with the dog and I introduced ourselves and Barbara told me she would be happy to share 1/2 of the cost of this rescue. Since she had nothing to write on or write with, I gave her one of my cards and asked her to stay in touch. She requested I keep her informed on the turtle’s progress, asked where I would take it and expressed interest in participating in the turtle’s release back into nature.

Kansas City straddles two states (Missouri and Kansas) and I only knew where the Missouri wildlife rescue organization was located. So, off we drove to Lakeside Nature Center in Kansas City, MO. Upon arrival, I reported where I had found the turtle (in Kansas) and, because of their funding (Missouri and national), they are only authorized to treat injured or abandoned wildlife from Missouri. We were lucky, however, because on that day, a Missouri resident who worked in Kansas agreed to transport the turtle to the Kansas facility, Operation Wildlife, which has a receiving facility in a Kansas suburb. I left the turtle with the volunteer and later that day, called the Receiving Center and asked whether or not it had arrived at the Receiving Center. It had and was, at that time, 33 miles from home.

Another volunteer promptly transported it an additional 31 miles to the Treatment Center where the turtle spent the night. I was directed to contact them for a prognosis, which I did.

The turtle was still bleeding from its injury so no repairs could take place. The shell had been cracked and most likely punctured some of the skin underneath, causing the bleeding. Operation Wildlife could not treat her until certain she was not bleeding from internal injuries as there was nothing that could be done, should internal injuries have occurred. So, now we wait…

I also called Barbara to update her on the turtle’s progress and she requested I try to find out the turtle’s gender so we could name her.

Early Thursday afternoon, I called for an update and was told the turtle had just received a Betadine bath and was still bleeding, but not as badly. Assuming the veterinarian agreed, they thought they could patch the shell later that afternoon. The volunteer at Operation Wildlife told me the following.
• The turtle was an Alligator Snapping Turtle, between 20 and 25 years old.
• It was probably a female since this is Spring and only female Alligator Snapping Turtles travel on land.
• Female turtles will travel as much as ½ miles to find the best nesting spot.
• She weighed about 5 pounds.
• She looks like and is often called the dinosaur of turtles as she looks prehistoric.
• She will not eat in captivity and can go as long as a month between meals.
• The longer in captivity, the harder on her and less likely she will be to survive.
• Their quote, “You were very brave to rescue this turtle as she could easily have taken off your finger and possibly, your hand!” Gulp!!!

Here is some of what Wikipedia has to say about her…

The Alligator Snapping Turtle (Macrochelys temminckii) is one of the largest freshwater turtles in the world. It is a larger and slightly less aggressive relative of the Common Snapping Turtle. The epithet temminckii is in honor of Dutch zoologist Coenraad Jacob Temminck.

Distribution and habitat - Virginia, South Carolina, and northern Florida. They are also found in the Missouri River at least as far north as the Gavins Point Dam at Yankton, South Dakota.

The largest freshwater turtle in North America, the alligator snapper keeps to primarily southern U.S. waters, while the smaller, more aggressive common snapper inhabits lakes and streams from South America to Canada. These turtles can remain submerged for up to an hour, and typically, only nesting females will venture onto open land. They are very big.

Description - The alligator snapping turtle is characterized by a large, heavy head and a long, thick tail with three dorsal ridges of large scales (osteoderms) giving it a primitive appearance reminiscent of some of the plated dinosaurs. They can be immediately distinguished from the common snapper by the three distinct rows of spikes and raised plates on the carapace, whereas the common snapper has a smoother carapace. They are a solid gray, brown, black, or olive-green in color, and often covered with algae. They have radiating yellow patterns around the eyes, serving to break up the outline of the eye and keep the turtle camouflaged. Their eyes are also surrounded by a star-shaped arrangement of fleshy filamentous "eyelashes."

There is an unverified report of a 403-pound alligator snapping turtle found in the Neosho River in Kansas in 1937,[2] but the largest one actually on record is 236 lb, and housed at Brookfield Zoo in Chicago, Illinois. They generally do not grow quite that large. Average adult size is around 26 inches shell length with a weight of 175 lb. Males are typically larger than females.[3] Alligator snapping turtles can also range in length from 16 to 32 inches.

The inside of the turtle's mouth is camouflaged, and it possesses a vermiform (literally, "worm-shaped") appendage on the tip of its tongue used to lure fish, a form of Peckhamian mimicry. The turtle hunts by lying motionless in the water with its mouth wide open. The vermiform tongue imitates the movements of a worm, luring prey to the turtle's mouth. The mouth is then closed with tremendous speed and force, completing the ambush.

The alligator snapping turtle possesses extraordinary bite strength, and can be quite aggressive when cornered. These turtles must be handled with extreme care.

Diet - Alligator snappers are opportunistic carnivores more often at a young age, but are also scavengers. As they mature they become omnivores and do not pose a threat to fish populations. Fishermen have glorified the species' ability to catch fish and deplete fish populations. Minnows are usually the main source of meat for the species at a young age. They will eat almost anything they can catch. Their natural diet consists primarily of aquatic plant life, dead fish carcasses (usually thrown overboard by fishermen), invertebrates, carrion, and amphibians, but they are also known to eat snakes, and even other turtles. In captivity they may consume almost any kind of meat provided, including rodents, beef, chicken and pork although these are not always healthy on a day-to-day basis.

Reproduction and lifespan - Maturity is reached at around 12 years of age. Mating takes place yearly; early spring in the southern part of their total range, and later spring in the north. The female builds a nest and lays a clutch of 10-50 eggs about 2 months later. The sex of the baby alligator snapping turtles depends on the temperature at which the eggs are incubated. Nests are typically excavated at least 50 yards from the water's edge to prevent them from being flooded and drowned. Incubation takes from 100 to 140 days, and hatchlings emerge in the early fall.

Though their potential lifespans in the wild are unknown, alligator snapping turtles are believed to be capable of living to 150 years of age. In captivity, they typically live from anywhere between 20 to 70 years of age.

In captivity - Alligator snapping turtles are often captive-bred as pets and are readily available in the exotic animal trade. Due to their potential size and specific needs, they do not make particularly good pets for all but the most experienced aquatic turtle keepers. Due to sheer size, handling adult specimens can pose significant problems. Despite their reputation, they are typically not prone to biting, but when antagonized are quite capable of delivering a bite with their powerful jaws which can cause significant harm to a human, easily amputating fingers. Some states where alligator snapping turtles do not range (such as California) prohibit them from being kept as pets by residents.

Conservation status - The alligator snapping turtle is primarily vulnerable to humans from habitat loss and hunting. Some are also hunted for their carapaces; the plastron of the turtle is valued by some because of its shape as a cross. There are accounts of large (50+ lb) turtles being caught both purposefully and accidentally on recreational fishing lines called "trot lines." Abandoned trotlines are thought to be even more dangerous to turtles. Soup made from snapping turtle meat is considered by many to be a delicacy.

This turtle is protected from collection throughout much of its range. The IUCN lists it as a threatened species, and as of June 14, 2006 it was afforded some international protection by being listed as a CITES III species (which will put limits on exportation from the United States).

The alligator snapping turtle is now endangered in several states, including Illinois.

I was not home late Thursday to receive Operation Wildlife’s very late afternoon call that the turtle was ready for release. I called Barbara early Friday morning to let her know that I was going to retrieve the turtle and we agreed on a time and place to meet. She also suggested that since the most common name for girls in Kansas is Emily, that we name her, “Emily.”

This morning, I made the trip to Linwood, KS to pick up Emily. It was a beautiful day and a beautiful drive. I took my mom along who was eager to see this magnificent being! And, Emily is truly magnificent and quite the “lady.” She bled a little after the patch was affected and so the binding agent turned pink! Once again, she went into a box and then my trunk for the 33-mile trip home. I inquired as to which side of the street she should be released on since the habitats are distinctly different. Operation Wildlife suggested we release her on the deep-water side. Since her stomach was not distended, in all probability, she had already laid her eggs and was headed home so, home we went! Her intended “across the street return” took a total of 97 miles, transported in four different vehicles by volunteers all…

My mom and I met up with Barbara and we walked to the area behind my home and released Emily back into the water. Here is a link - http://www.kodakgallery.com/Slideshow.jsp?mode=fromshare&Uc=1768d3fp.mxb... - pictures of this glorious turtle who, because of humankind, almost lost her life while headed home. I feel so blessed that I could help.

While some (not all of you, but some) may ask why anyone would go to this effort for a single snapping turtle, the answer is here in a story by Loren Eisley, a poet and scientist …

Once upon a time, there was a wise man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach before he began his work. One day he was walking along the shore. As he looked down the beach, he saw a human figure moving like a dancer. He smiled to himself to think of someone who would dance to the day. So, he began to walk faster to catch up. As he got closer, he saw that it was a young man and the young man wasn't dancing. But, instead, he was reaching down to the shore, picking up something and very gently, throwing it into the ocean.

As he got closer, he called out, "Good morning! What are you doing?"

The young man paused, looked up and replied, "Throwing starfish into the ocean."

"I guess I should have asked, 'why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?'" said the wise man.

The young man replied, "the sun is up and the tide is going out and if I don't throw them in, they'll die."

"But, young man," responded the wise man. "Don't you realize that there are miles and miles of beach and starfish all along it. You can't possibly make a difference."

The young man listened politely and bent down, picked up another starfish and threw it into the sea past the breaking waves. "It made a difference for that one," he replied.

His response surprised the wise man. He was upset. He didn't know how to reply so, instead, he turned away and walked back to his cottage to begin his writing. All day long, as he wrote, the image of the young man haunted him. He tried to ignore it but the vision persisted.

Finally, late in the afternoon, he realized that he, the scientist, he the poet, had missed the essential nature of the young man's actions. Because he realized that what the young man was doing was choosing not to be an observer in the universe and watch it pass by but was choosing to be an actor in the universe and make a difference. He was embarrassed. That night he went to bed troubled.

When morning came, he awoke knowing that he had to do something. So, he got up, put on his clothes and found the young man and, with him, he spent the rest of the morning throwing starfish into the ocean.

Or an Alligator Snapping Turtle back into the pond… Blessings.

Author's Bio: 

JARI HOLLAND BUCK is a business consultant, medical layperson, Reiki Master and Shamanic Practitioner who spent 6-1/2 months in four hospitals with her critically ill husband. During 5+ months on life support, every organ in his body failed, yet he survived. Learn more about how to be an advocate in her book, Hospital Stay Handbook: A Guide to Becoming A Patient Advocate for Your Loved Ones, winner of the 2006 Parent to Parent Adding Wisdom Award and finalist in the Fresh Voices of 2006 Health category. Her websites are www.hospitalstayhandbook.com and www.majesticwolf.com and she blogs at hospitalstayhandbook.blogspot.com.