He Has Rights: What’s Being Done to Snapping Turtles on the East End Has Got to Stop

Snapping Turtle
Snapping Turtle, Photo: Melissa Wilkins

One of the reasons I moved to the Hamptons was for the culture. Specifically, I viewed it as a place where people had a heightened awareness, especially when it came to social issues. And it was the last place I expected to find genuine prejudice. However, recent events have caused me to see things in a different light.

It all started with a leisurely walk at Town Pond. I had not a care in the world and was taking in the beauty of the surroundings. Then I spied two young girls, probably between 8 and 10 years of age, throwing rocks at a snapping turtle, who was peeking his head above the water’s surface. As if that wasn’t enough, they were also shouting expletives at the turtle at the same time. Things like, “Why did you have to kill that baby swan, you son of a bitch!” There were also references to the turtle being a “baby killer.”

Is this what we are teaching our children? I decided to explore the situation and asked the children why they were so mad at the snapping turtle. The response was simple, “My mother told me that she read in the paper that a snapping turtle killed the cute little baby swan.”

“What paper?” I asked.

“The one with the pretty paintings on the front” was their response.

OMG, I thought. I am a contributing writer for a paper that fosters prejudice against snapping turtles. I could not stand by and let this go unaddressed. But in order to write an article that would change public perception, I knew I would need facts.

I must confess that I have a deep affection for all turtles. When I was a child, my mother gave me a stuffed turtle that I slept with every night. He kept me safe for many years.

I started by researching the recent article in question, that the girls had referenced. In doing so, I discovered that it was not specifically stated that a snapping turtle ate the baby swan, but it was certainly inferred, along with the possibility of a fox. Surprisingly, the article does not offer one shred of evidence that a snapping turtle actually killed the baby swan. There were no eyewitnesses, no videotape and no call to 911. I canvassed the neighborhood and no one reported any swan screaming. In the absence of evidence, how can we cast aspersions upon the snapping turtles of the East End? To do so is both reckless and irresponsible.

Just because the turtle chooses to live in a pond doesn’t make it any less important than any other type of turtle. Are these East End snapping turtle haters not the same people that so fervently contribute to saving the lives of newly hatched sea turtles? Are these not the very same people who would stop and remove an eastern box turtle from the road, so it won’t be hit by a passing car? Are these not the very same people who would cry if they saw on the evening news that the last Galapagos Island turtle had vanished from the face of the earth?

Yes, readers. I am writing this article in defense of the snapping turtles of the East End. If it were not for these turtles, our local ecosystem would be so out of whack that we would have more to complain about than a missing baby swan. Snapping turtles create indentations in the bottom of the pond that serve as breeding grounds for various fish. In this way they help to sustain the fish populations. They also keep the frog population in check. If there were too many frogs, the croaking sound would be so loud that we would not be able to sleep at night. They eat menacing insects as well.

Snapping turtle prejudice has to stop. Some of these turtles are said to live up to 150 years or more. There was an instance where, in the late 1990s, a snapping turtle was found that had a musket ball from the Civil War still lodged in its shell.

Now, back to the accusations. How do we know the little swan (cygnet) did not succumb to a natural death? How do we know it wasn’t kidnapped and is living in someone’s backyard fishpond? I do recognize that it was not unequivocally stated that the turtle was responsible for the demise of the cygnet, but it was definitely the first one mentioned as a suspect. And that is what I call prejudice my friend.

Haters might want to also take note that snapping turtles also kill rats. Do you want rats in your house? In the summer, when the mother rat takes her baby rats down to the pond for a swim and the baby rats are out in the water, the snapping turtles sneak up on them and pull them down to a watery death. After that, they eat the little carcasses.

Wow. I never realized that snapping turtles were so violent. I am starting to think it was a snapping turtle that killed the baby swan. Might I too be prejudiced?

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