Helping Snappers. It’s Harder Than It Looks!

Helping Snappers. It’s Harder Than It Looks!

I admit I was a bit surprised how popular our post, “How To Help A Snapping Turtle Cross The Road” featuring a video demonstration from the Toronto Zoo was. I should have been less surprised how much more nuanced it was in practice!

This time of year it’s pretty common to see turtles crossing the road. Every year, many are injured and killed by cars. In fact a “State of emergency” declared in Ontario, CA over the number of turtles injured by traffic. What’s more, studies have shown that about 6% of drivers will actually swerve to hit them!  So it’s great to see such interest in helping turtles get across the road safely! Even big gnarly Snapping Turtles!

To review, here’s the video we originally shared from the Toronto Zoo.

O.K. so let me say first, that we’ve moved big snappers quite a few times. We’ve given them gentle nudges while watching for traffic, we’ve used shovels and even a camera tripod! However, we’d never tried the “Grab them by the back of the shell and drag” Toronto Zoo method. So last week when we happened on a medium sized snapper while out walking the pooches, it seemed like a good opportunity to put it into practice.

Of course, my wife is the professional with the wildlife background, so I agreed to hold the dogs.  Or I should say, I encouraged her to use her professional background to wrestle the snapper.  I mean, what if someone asked her how to do it and she didn’t have first-hand experience?  We can’t have that!!

Remember the general idea is to get behind the turtle and firmly grip it by the back shell. You should NEVER grab or lift it by its tail.  Once you have a grip on its shell, and if it’s too heavy to pick up, you simply turn and drag the turtle across the road in the direction it was going… So…

Moving A Snapping Turtle

Well, it looks worse than it was. First, you have to get over the fact that the snapper will use its full body to lunge, twist and “snap”. The sudden show of power and speed can make you jump if you don’t expect it, but the turtle can’t reach you back by its shell as long as you keep your grip. The scratches came from the back feet which are a little harder to avoid.  (They were also pretty minor, but still…)

To move the turtle as you saw in the video, you have to get a firm grip on its shell. One hand grabbing the shell on each side of the turtle’s tail. Getting a firm grip can be a challenge. As in our case, the snapper was wet and slimy having just been in one pond before attempting to cross the road to another wet area. Oh, and it was covered in leeches. (They’re pretty slimy too!)  I’m told the “wee” turtle was a lot heavier than expected as well. After a few false starts, my courageous wife was able to quickly move the turtle across the road.

So does the “Toronto” method work? Sure. Gloves would help a lot and if you have a car mat or rug handy, it will make dragging a heavy snapper across the road much easier. That said, there’s no guarantee you won’t walk away with a few “war wounds” for your good deed.

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3 comments

  1. Lenore

    Thanks for the follow-up. And thanks to your brave wife for helping the turtle. I was among those who found your earlier post with the video quite interesting. I shared it with our Audubon group. One of our members, a wildlife biology prof at the local university thought it was quite good. I’ll have to let him know the “postscript.”

  2. Ken Keele

    The turtle in the video is clearly drugged 🙂
    I’ve always been fond of “Give them a looong branch to grab hold of and then drag them”. Having seen what they can do to one of those branches I have no intention of getting close enough to try and grab them by the shell.

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