Friday

Saving Baby Snapping Turtles, A Moral Choice

As I was walking in Stetson, Maine today, I found a baby snapping turtle. The little guy or girl was only about an inch in diameter. It is October 4th, late for turtles to be born, in my opinion, but I'm no turtle expert. I've seen them hatch in September before, but never October. As I surveyed the weeds at my feet, I found three more of the little ones struggling through the weeds and along the road toward the pond just down the hill.

In Maine, female turtles sometimes lay their eggs in the sand alongside roads that are close to brooks, rivers, and ponds. Then, when the offspring hatch, they make a dash, if you can call what those little ones were doing a dash, toward the water and safety. Unfortunately, they often wind up in the road and get killed by traffic.

All four of the turtles I found were either on the tar or making their way toward it. If they don't get killed by an automobile they often get eaten by a predator. While I have no business coming between a predator and its meal, I do think I should help baby turtles across the road or along it to the water. I carried my four charges to the water's edge and let them go. They scurried into the water. They will soon burrow down in the mud for a long winter's nap and emerge next spring.

Some people do not like turtles and blame them for eating baby ducks and fish. While it is true that baby ducks and fish may be on their menu, who are we to tell turtles what to eat? If humans enjoy eating ducks, then why shouldn't a turtle have the same rights? Some people will even go out of their way to hit a turtle that is crossing the street in order to kill it. This makes egg laying females particularly vulnerable.

Human tampering and the introduction of non-indigenous species has upset the balance of eco-systems all over the globe. Sometimes great harm is done by one careless person. Therefore, should I interfere with nature and help the baby turtles or should I let them fend for themselves? In my opinion, since some human beings go out of their way to kill them and we've built a road through their hatching grounds, it is reasonable for me to butt in and give them a helping hand. Maybe, in some small way, it makes up for the people who foolishly kill them.

I have another friend who has the same problem, dangerous encounters with humans. I call him Elvis. He is a porcupine that lives in the woods near my home and hangs out in my yard. Since I live far from a busy road I think Elvis is safe as long as he doesn't meet a hungry fisher cat, the only natural predator that will kill and eat porcupines The only other threat to his safety would be an encounter with a local nimrod with a gun. Some people believe that porcupines are destructive to forests and will shoot them when they get a chance. This is nonsense, and most people in Maine are kind and respect the environment and wildlife.

The people who kill for foolish reasons are a very small minority, but that doesn't make a difference to the animals they kill. While we may not think of wild animals very often, they have to think about us all the time, to be constantly vigilant, because any encounter with a human, whether he or she is toting a gun or driving a car, may be fatal.

It is interesting to note that one of the baby turtles I held in my hand may live longer than me if it has a chance. Once it has grown to a certain size the only thing it will have to fear is human beings. Snapping turtles have lived 47 years in captivity and in the wild it's thought that they live upwards of thirty years. I'll never know, if I'm lucky and if the turtles are lucky, I'll never see them again. Like many events in life, ours was a brief encounter that may have made all the difference to them and brought me a few moments of joy.