I have had the honor this past week of helping to medically treat a very old snapping turtle. He was hit by a car and suffered a pretty bad fracture on parts of his shell, and has a wound that extends into his body cavity. I went to look at him as he rested in the wet room, awaiting treatment. I peered over the large white tub, and first beheld his shell. Instantly I shared a laugh with him and in my head I thought "you too, just like your friends, huh buddy?". Snapping turtles spend vast amounts of time in the water, unlike some of our terrestrial or semi-aquatic species in the region. As a result, they end up developing little ecosystems that ride around on their shell. Dirt, algae, and even leeches can live on them, much like whales provide home to many creatures as they slip through the sea. After hibernation they emerge from their muddy winter sleep, literally carrying the earth on their backs. It is easy to see why many Indigenous Algonquian- and Iroquoian-speaking peoples mainly in the northeastern part of North America use to refer to the continent as Turtle Island.
After taking in his kelly green adorned shell, I moved to his eyes. His head was laying out flat, and he moved just his eyes, and through taking in the mica-flecked mossy greenish grey an ancient piece of me felt activated. I can't explain it and my brain tries to catch up with the messages being sent through our silent conversation. Then my eyes travel down to the spikes on his tail I am reassured that this is what is conveyed. An ancient being and energy that vibrates on a much different level than the lists in our minds of errands, social media (and yes, blog!) posts, work, groceries, etc. "Wow, friend", I think. "300 million years on this earth, and it's cars that can do this. I'm so sorry." I think about how we can do better, with wildlife crossings, better options for consolidated commuting, and the positive outcome of less cars on the road via the forced working from home experiment.
It's time to give him an exam, and I put on the thick gloves to transport him to the exam room, trying to be sure I don't create movement in the fracture. He doesn't feel great, but also when snapping turtles are this big and old, I honestly feel like they understand you're trying to help, unlike most of our wild animal patients. We work on him and clean his wounds, offer antibiotics, bracket the shell, and dress the open wound. I remember offering snapping turtles water from the tap, the sound of running water can make them interested and it is less invasive than subcutaneous fluids, or at least can help to supplement hydration while they can't be in the water (the wound is open to his organs, so he will have to be "dry docked" until it heals).
I hold him and can feel his heartbeat while an Apprentice offers this old man a drink from a bowl. He moves slowly, taking in his surroundings and the level of threat he is under. Eventually he decides either that we are safe enough to be around or that he is so thirsty he doesn't care, and he dunks his head under the running water. He takes big gulps and we all look at each other, trying to quietly contain how amazing this moment is. His whole body relaxes, and after drinking a lot he starts trying to get his whole body into the tiny bowl, and its time to get him back to his temporary housing. We shared a video on social media of him taking a drink, in all of his vulnerability, and it has apparently gone viral with over 3 million engagements. I will definitely share it on the Instagram page because it is such a great glimpse into another side of their persona. Throughout the threads on his video, people are commenting that they thoght snapping turtles were mean, they are learning so much from his story. I tell him that he is inspiring others and that we are going to try everything we can to get him back to his home in the wild. I believe that he is helping people remember that we all live together, humans and wildlife, on Turtle Island.