You would think not having teeth to bite with, and being too slow to run away would make for an easy patient – but as it turns out rehabilitating a turtle is a bit more complicated.
This large Red-Eared Slider (Trachema scripta elegans) was found in Queens, badly wounded from a large crack in her shell. Residents had seen children throwing rocks at sunbathing turtles, and it appears that one of them hit their mark.
She was rushed to the emergency room at the Center for Avian and Exotic Medicine, where Danilo Torres, a veterinary intern from Spain, carefully pieced her shell back together. The shell needed to be closely set so that it would fuse together. Because turtles are so slow-growing, the healing process may take up to a year.
This is where things get complicated. Red-Eared Sliders are water turtles – they don’t produce saliva – so they must drink underwater while eating to swallow their food. So how do you keep a shell splinted and dry, while still being partially submerged in water?
Instead of using a splint like we do with birds, a series of two bra clasps were glued on either side of the break in the turtle’s shell, and then linked together to close the wound. Once she heals, the glue can be dissolved and the clasps removed without any damage to her.
In the meantime our patient is enjoying her daily dips in water, which at only ¾ of an inch deep is just enough to eat in, and plenty of time exercising on land in her colorful playpen. She is also on antibiotics to protect against infection, but unlike injured birds that are medicated twice a day, her slow metabolism means she only needs medicine twice a week.
In the wild, Red-Eared Sliders can live up to 20 years or more, so while it may take many months to recover completely, her rehabilitation will be only one of many adventures she will have in her lifetime. In fact, once she goes through her annual shedding where she loses the top layers of her shell, there will be little trace of her injuries, or of her stay at the Wild Bird Fund.