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Pets Large & Small

Give ĎEm a Brake!

Rusty Ryan
Conservation Chairperson of the South Mountain Chapter
 of the National Audubon Society

(6/2012) What animal is the longest lived species in the Mason-Dixon region but does not reach sexual maturity till nearly ten years? This same animal will spend most of its life in a home range of a few acres in size. As an adult, this animal is basically predator proof due to its physical attributes (a tough hinged shell) but at the same time cannot seem to survive a trek across our ever increasing roadway system. If you said the Eastern Box Turtle (Box Turtle) you should enjoy this article.

In the coming weeks and months many species of wildlife such as frogs, salamanders and turtles will be attempting a round trip suicidal trek across our roads in the hopes of breeding and laying eggs. As mentioned in a previous article on vernal pools, the local amphibians which commonly cross roads for breeding purposes are the Wood Frog and Spotted Salamander. These species are most commonly encountered during wet, warm evenings.

While the Box Turtle is not rare or endangered in the Mason-Dixon region, studies have shown that their numbers have been declining. The major reason for their decline is habitat loss and forest fragmentation. When the turtles preferred habitat of wooded areas is developed (removed and/or broken up into smaller tracts), this results in more roads and more potential for collisions with motorists. Another problem that habitat loss and fragmentation brings is an increase in predation to the eggs in the nest. Raccoons and skunks can decimate turtle nests and both of these predators seem to adapt and coincide around humans.

Another hurdle that many species must deal with is the capture and relocation of species. Many wildlife species such as the Timber Rattlesnake and the Box Turtles have their own built in GPS system and they know their home range inside and out. If you remove one of these species from this "comfort zone" the species literally has a difficult time adapting to the new surroundings and simply is lost.

The decline of this and many species can also be attributed to the removal of a species from its home for the simple reason of having a pet. This pet thing can be taken to the next level where the turtles are captured and sold to the highest bidder for illegal pet trade. I believe many of us (including me) have been guilty of finding a box turtle or some other wildlife and taking them home as a pet.

What can we do?

Please donít take wildlife home as pets and donít take wildlife from one area and release it to another area. Leave it be and enjoy the moment. If you wish to purchase a turtle or any other species, please make sure the dealer is reputable and always ask if the animal is "captive bred". It is illegal to sell E. Box Turtles in PA and Maryland.

In terms of road mortality issues, the easiest thing that we can do as motorists would be to drive with caution especially through known wildlife crossing areas. Unfortunately, motorists seem to be more distracted than ever and most folks are just plain in a hurry and speed limits donít mean anything. This lethal combination of speed and distractions is hazardous for wildlife.

If you come across a turtle crossing the road, please use extreme caution when pulling over. As much as I want people to help the turtle, I also wish for you to be considerate for other motorists when youíre stopping along the roadways. If you wish to assist the turtle than pull safely off the road and put your hazard lights on. Proceed to catch the turtle and always release the turtle into a safe area and in the direction the turtle was heading.

What has been done to minimize wildlife mortality by vehicles?

Warning signs are a simple means of notifying motorists of a known travel corridor for wildlife. We all have noticed the roadside signs meant to warn motorists of known deer crossing areas. The same can be and has been done to warn motorists of known salamander, turtle or frog crossings. If you are aware of an area that youíve witnessed to be a high mortality rate for other species, you may wish to contact the local municipality or state highway department. With the proper permission, these warning signs can be effective in protecting wildlife.

Near Boonsboro, Maryland, it was observed that a section of roadway seemed to have unusual number of Box Turtle mortality. A barrier (fence) was installed parallel to the roadway along both sides of the roadway. When the turtles make their trek towards the roadway, the barrier forces them to follow the fence which leads the turtles to a culvert (pipe) which provides safe passage under the roadway. This procedure was done to a nearly 2 mile stretch of roadway and by using trail cameras, the turtles and other wildlife have successfully survived the motorists. This technique utilizing physical barriers and special pipes is being used for many other wildlife species in the world.

Remember to give wildlife a better chance by being cautious and observant while driving. If we follow the tips mentioned above, we can make a difference by keeping these species moving in their intended direction of travel.

So Give ĎEm a Brake!

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