Biologists Help Rehabilitate Desert Turtles | New


EDWARDS AFB – On a recent hot and sunny day, Kali the Desert Turtle defied the odds.

She did so with the characteristic determination a Desert Turtle relies on to survive the relentless extremes of the Mojave Desert. She inhaled, glanced up at the patch of land she had just been placed on, then made her way determinedly over a newly formed apron and into a freshly dug burrow. She settled there, protected from the sun and the heat of the day.

Things were settled for her: she could go on living.

Barely six months earlier, its existence was in doubt. She had been hit by a car on Rosamond Boulevard in the sometimes frantic traffic near the west gate, and her life was on the line. She was bleeding and her shell had been cracked, exposing the soft tissue underneath, the biologist said. the Misty Hailstone base.

His injuries, left untreated, would likely have been fatal. Even with treatment, she might not survive.

After retrieving the injured animal from the west gate, where commuters had found it, base biologists immediately set out to find a qualified veterinarian to treat her – a task made more complicated because the turtles desert are listed by the federal government as an endangered species and a relatively small number of vets have gone through the qualification process to treat wild desert turtles, Hailstone said.

Biologists found a trained veterinarian at Ridgecrest at VCA Crestwood Animal Hospital, where Kali was taken and treated for her injuries. She was given antibiotics to prevent infection, which was a major concern. Turtles’ immune systems are not as strong as a human’s to fight contagion, and infection can cause an animal to succumb to injuries like Kali’s. The vet also put a plaster seal over the crack in her shell, which would protect the wound and also help fight infection while waiting for her shell to mend with new growth, Hailstone said. She ended up staying in the clinic for a few weeks.

Still, x-rays revealed that the animal’s internal organs were not significantly damaged. This led both the vet and grassroots biologists to believe that Kali might eventually survive, but full recovery would still be a long journey, with substantial hurdles to overcome.

The key to moving forward in her recovery was to go – naturally for a turtle – slowly and steadily.

A significant and immediate complication was brumation – a period of dormancy that turtles and other reptiles exhibit in winter. It is akin to hibernating bears, but allows turtles to wake up periodically, venture out of the protection of their burrows and drink from puddles formed by winter rains before returning to their burrows to resume their long winter nap.

Kali was injured in mid-November and it was almost Christmas when she returned from the vet clinic. Back in Edwards, biologists had to take the necessary steps to keep him from misting, which would significantly slow down his body’s systems, prevent his body from healing, and prevent his recovery.

From that point on, Kali’s continued progress depended on the ability of her caregivers to deceive Mother Nature.

They did it with light and temperature. The turtle would need around 12 hours of light per day with temperatures over 90 degrees, which would ensure it has a high enough metabolism to continue to heal.

They installed a new home for Kali in a large terrarium in the environmental management offices.

His reaction was both good and bad.

She responded well to light and heat and showed good levels of activity which would help her heal.

The problem was, most of this increased activity was aimed at escaping the confines of his cage.

Maybe she was more than agitated – destructively, Hailstone said.

“We could tell in a week that she wasn’t happy there,” Hailstone said. “We tried to make the environment as natural as possible for her, but she was tearing it apart as she tried to climb the walls to get out.

“It just wasn’t big enough. She felt like she needed to wander and the confinement caused enough stress that she just destroyed whatever we put in the terrarium trying to get out of it.

“This is how she earned her name. It was named in honor of Kali, the goddess of destruction, ”said Hailstone.

It was clear to Hailstone and her fellow biologists that something needed to be done, so they set to work trying to find a facility with the chamber and the ability to provide the continuing care that Kali would need.

After contacting a number of locations, Hailstone and the team arranged for Kali to be taken to the living Desert Zoo and Gardens in Palm Desert. They had top-notch zoological and veterinary staff who could ensure their needs were met. They also had larger facilities, indoors and outdoors, depending on the weather and daylight, where she could feel more comfortable and continue her convalescence in a supervised environment until. that she is ready to return to nature.

Innovation and resilience

For Herb Roraback, chief environmental officer, he said watching this six-month process unfold shows the ingenuity of his team who were responsible for Kali’s care.

“With this set of circumstances – these injuries and this animal – our team did an amazing job of dealing with this situation and finding the resources the turtle needed from start to finish,” he said.

“They were innovative in the way they overcame obstacles, and they were resilient to stay the course and find all the extra help they needed throughout this long process to get there. ensure that the turtle can fully recover and return to the wild, ”said Roraback.

So often it turns out to be much worse when an automobile collides with a turtle.

Hailstone and his fellow biologists appreciate this success. Kali, named after the Goddess of Destruction, has been returned to her home range in good health, where she can continue to contribute to the survival of her kind, from destroyer to builder.

Most importantly, a survivor.

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