The Adventures of “ABL” – and some good news!

**NOTE: There are some not-so-pretty pics ***

It has been such a busy week here that I haven’t had an opportunity to share a lot. Let’s fix that. Meet ABL:

ABL - intake. Courtesy Chattahoochee Nature Center Wildlife Department
Courtesy Chattahoochee Nature Center Wildlife Department

ABL, it turns out, is one very lucky turtle. That’s thanks to Jan and Rick Dappen and the good folks at the Chattahoochee Nature Center Wildlife Department. ABL had had a very, very bad day before the Dappens found him. He’d actually had a couple of bad days with a number of really rough weeks in between. Let’s tell a tale of a turtle.

A week ago Tuesday was another day at work for me. It’s rather quiet here – so quiet that it registers quickly when we hear the sound of a side-by-side ATV climbing the hill on our road. It was nevertheless a surprise to see “Ruby,” the Dappens’ ATV wheeling around the drive with Rick at the helm, Jan on “shotgun” and their daughter, Stefi, in the back. Jan and Rick popped out, saying, “we found it! It’s hurt!”

“It” turned out to be a male Eastern Box Turtle that had barely missed being crushed by an automobile.

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At first glance it was hard to tell what was wrong with him. We could see that he had had some plastral scutes scraped off:

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The pink area in the lower center are where bone was exposed by the scraping.

One of his rear legs also had a nasty laceration. All of this leads me to speculate that he was struck a glancing blow by an automobile tire. The tire pushed the turtle down and across the pavement, which scraped the plastron and lacerated the leg.

These injuries were all fresh. Some of the worst of his problems, though, were sustained weeks ago. While “working up” (measuring, weighing, etc.) the turtle, the turtle finally exposed his head. And that, friends, wasn’t a pretty picture.

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ABL’s problems weren’t just limited to his legs.

ABL was very emaciated. His skin was exceptionally gray, which indicated that he was having difficulty breathing. The most likely source of the breathing problems were the old damage to his nose and sinuses. Not only had they been damaged, but a subsequent infection had left him with a swollen eye and clogged nostrils. He probably hadn’t had anything to eat or drink for some time.

By now, this turtle had gotten his name, “ABL,” from the identifying code that he’d been assigned. I also realized that ABL was going to need rehabilitation that I have neither the experience nor the state license to give. My permit does give me permission to move an injured or ill turtle to a licensed rehabilitator. This was when we contacted Kathryn Dudeck, at the Wildlife Department of Chattahoochee Nature Center. The CNC Wildlife Department is a licensed rehabilitator for birds and “herps” (reptiles and amphibians). A glance at the CNC Wildlife Department’s Facebook page will reveal that Eastern Box Turtles are much of the “stock in trade” there. CNC invited ABL down for some high quality care.

Meanwhile, we were also looking at whether ABL’s head problems might have been caused by one of two very serious reptile diseases – ranavirus and snake fungal disease. Part of my monitoring project is specifically to watch for sick turtles so that they can be tested to determine whether the diseases have emerged (snake fungal disease) or re-emerged (ranavirus) locally.  These are incredibly dangerous diseases for herps. Ranavirus kills rapidly in “die offs” that will sweep through a local population. Murray County, adjacent to our community, had one of the first documented die offs in 1991 that was potentially attributable to ranavirus. A later die off – with ranavirus as the likely cause – was observed in 2010 in tadpoles in the Holly Creek watershed, which is adjacent to the Mountaintown Creek watershed.  And snake fungal disease, which has the potential to wreak overwhelming damage to reptile populations, has appeared in Georgia. Once ABL had been cleaned up, the conclusion was that he had neither disease.

This determination then opened up the possibility of ABL getting long-term rehabilitation. He’d already been on fluids and painkillers at CNC. ABL was then packaged up for transport to the reptile specialists at The Veterinary Clinic. ABL got a lot of care between CNC and TVC which revealed…

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…ABL’s swollen eyelid had hidden a healthy eye! He has two good eyes. This is critical for a male box turtle. The research indicates that males rely mostly on their eyes to find a female in breeding season. Alas, the worst-injured of the two rear legs had to be amputated at the knee. As you’ve seen, though, a “tripod” can survive in the wild. Kathryn told me this week that ABL is drinking and beginning to show some interest in food. ABL may take some time to recuperate with all of this rehabilitation. We’re closing in on winter, when box turtles will “brumate,” or go through the winter resting phase. With that in mind, ABL has been offered a chance to brumate at CNC with some other recuperating turtles. Release date – spring 2015 if all goes well.

But wait – there’s more!

Jan rallied many of her friends to ABL’s Facebook page at CNC Wildlife Department, where he is known as #15-0531. So many folks showed an interest in ABL’s recuperation that we’re kicking around the idea of a “release party,” much like is done with rehabilitated sea turtles. We would “repatriate” the turtle back where the Dappens found it. We’ll discuss more about this “repatriation” idea later. Let’s keep our fingers crossed for ABL!