Turtles are resilient. Many turtles suffer injuries such as shell or limb fractures while crossing roads. Turtles also get bitten by dogs. Aquatic turtles sustain injuries from fishing gear, such as hooks and line. If you find an injured turtle, remain calm and put your safety first. Then follow these steps to help.
If the turtle is injured in the road, rescue only if it is safe for you to do so. Do not run into traffic to pick up a turtle. Flash your hazard lights if you are parked on the shoulder.
Find a box or container big enough to hold the turtle. Poke holes in the lid before putting the turtle inside.
Line the bottom of the container with a towel, t-shirt, paper towel, or newspaper if possible.
Gently lift a small to medium sized turtle by the shell edges or by sliding your hand underneath and place it in the container. Even a small turtle may try to bite when they feel threatened. Avoid placing your fingers near the turtle’s head.
(See below for handling snapping turtles.)
Do not manipulate broken shell pieces. The turtle’s shell is bone and fractures are quite painful. Use the smallest box the turtle will fit in to keep them from moving while you transport them.
Call the North Country Wild Care wildlife emergency hotline (Albany, Saratoga and the Adirondacks) at 518-964-6740.
Outside of the North Country Wild Care area, you can find a licensed rehabilitator on the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation website, through your state’s wildlife office, or by visiting Animal Help Now for nationwide listings of rehabilitators and rescue organizations.
Do not offer the turtle food or water unless instructed to by a wildlife rehabilitator. Do not try to treat injuries yourself.
If you cannot immediately transport the turtle to a wildlife rehabilitator, keep the turtle in a warm, quiet place in the closed container until arrangements are made. The turtle will have the best chance of survival if both you and the turtle remain calm.
Handling injured snapping turtles:
Snapping turtles have powerful jaws and long necks. They can extend their necks rapidly and will be feeling frightened and defensive. Do not place your hands near the front half of the turtle!
Do not pick the turtle up by their tail, as you can injure the bones of the tail and back.
Stand your box or container on its side and try to gently push the turtle into the box from behind. A broom or a shovel can help you carefully nudge them into the box.
If you must lift the turtle, place your hands around the shell above each BACK leg. Because the claws on the feet are very sharp and can cause deep scratches on your hands and arms, wear gloves if you have them. You can also place a towel, sweatshirt, or jacket around the back end of the turtle before you pick it up to protect your hands from the claws.