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Reptile Dysfunction: Overcoming Hurdles for Turtles

Karen Testa has always been passionate about the environment. As a volunteer with the Wildlife Rescue Center of the Hamptons, she gravitated to one animal in particular: the turtle. “I always had a place in my heart for the turtles, who seemed to be the underdog in wildlife,” Testa explains. That’s why she founded Turtle Rescue of the Hamptons, a.k.a. “Turtle Manor,” a nonprofit dedicated to rehabilitating sick and injured turtles of Long Island.

Situated in a 1920 farmhouse in Jamesport, Turtle Manor serves as home to around 150 recovering turtles per year. Volunteers respond to calls throughout Long Island, driving to pick up turtles in distress and bring them to the center.

Turtles require more care than many wild animals. The healing process for turtles is long, as they have a relatively slow metabolism, and they are prone to numerous injuries, from boating accidents to careless lawnmowers. Numerous hazards for turtles exist on the East End.

“Very often, turtles get caught in crab traps and drown,” according to Testa.

The need for a dedicated turtle rehab center like Turtle Rescue of the Hamptons is clear. In an average rehabilitation facility with a high turnover rate, turtles often don’t receive adequate attention, as many of their injuries require at least a year for full recovery. Most facilities simply lack the necessary resources to accommodate these reptiles.

Turtles’ short active season, from April to October, also contributes to longer rehabilitation needs. For example, injured animals brought to Turtle Rescue in late October may be ready for release in just a few weeks, but they would never survive in the cold November weather, so many turtles stay at the center through the winter for this reason.

An injured turtle
Photo: Courtesy Turtle Rescue of Hamptons

Testa and her staff, including Dr. Robert Pisciotta of the North Fork Animal Hospital, provide individualized care for each turtle, with recovery time ranging from overnight to several years. Each turtle stays in its own tub while at Turtle Manor—the specialized facility for turtles allows the animals to maintain the separate habitats they need to recover.

Once the turtle is healthy and ready to return to the wild, volunteers bring it back to its original home to help maintain natural habitats throughout Long Island. Testa says moving turtles to an entirely new region would disrupt the naturally formed ecosystems by introducing foreign pathogens.

Another mission of Turtle Rescue is education. Testa visits libraries, girls and boys clubs, museums and other institutions throughout the East End to make presentations about protecting the turtles.

Part of that education includes increasing awareness of what people can do to help wild turtles, Testa explains.

“Do a little something for wildlife every day,” she says. “Put a water dish out, a bird feeder. And keep your eyes open while driving and mowing.”

Testa further emphasizes the importance of leaving turtles in the wild instead of trying to domesticate them.

“We can’t give what Mother Nature can give,” she said.

So far, the longest a patient has been at Turtle Rescue under Testa’s care is four years. A boat propeller incident in Peconic Bay fractured the top shell of that particular turtle, just two millimeters from its spine. Thanks to the care of Testa’s staff, the turtle was able to make a full recovery, culminating in his rerelease this year.

Turtle Rescue of the Hamptons is a nonprofit that depends on its volunteers. They are always looking for help, including rescue transporter olunteers who can drive turtles in trouble from their local areas to the Jamesport headquarters. For more information about their work and how to make a donation, visit turtlerescueofthehamptons.org.

Lend turtles a helping hand
Lend turtles a helping hand, Photo: Courtesy Turtle Rescue of Hamptons
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