2017 Year in Review: Alex Wehrung, Outreach Coordinator

It’s time to look back on 2017! Check our blog between Christmas and New Year’s for a variety of stories and memories of 2017 from the staff and volunteers of the Wildlife Center of Virginia.

The thing that sticks out to me during 2017 is probably pretty different compared to some of my coworkers. There weren't any big, charismatic animals like eagles or bears involved, the event wasn't reported on by the local news stations … in fact, I can't even remember what month it was. However, I can remember the sequence of events as if they happened just yesterday.  

I was driving to work on a weekday morning at around 8:45 am, sometime during July or August. When I was just about 30 seconds away from turning into the Wildlife Center's driveway, I spotted a dark, softball-sized lump right in the middle of the road. I didn't give it much thought other than making sure to avoid it. Zooming by the mystery object at around 45 mph, I made a point to get a good look at whatever piece of garbage someone had left behind, or identify what part of someone’s car was now missing. It had an oval shape, four legs, and streaks of reddish-orange on a dark background. “Oh. It’s a turtle," I thought to myself, and continued on.

A fraction of a second later: “OH! IT’S A TURTLE!” In the same instant, I stomped on the brakes and pulled over to the shoulder as soon as I could. Hazards on, double-checking for traffic, I got out of my car and jogged back to the stranded turtle, who had come to a stop in the exact center of the road. I could tell from my vantage point that, a) it was an Eastern Box Turtle, b) it didn't appear to be injured yet, and that c) it was apparently not in any hurry to keep moving. Thanks to the knowledge I’ve gained while working at the Center, I knew exactly how to help. In a few short moments, the unassuming critter was safely moved out of the roadway, and well into the undergrowth on the other side. With the rescue mission completed, I returned to my car and had, overall, a very average day after that. 

If you’ve ever been to one of our educational programs in-person or online that’s featured Wilson, the Center’s education Eastern Box Turtle, you may have learned about the importance of helping turtles cross the road in the direction they’re traveling – also known as Wilson’s “Turtle Promise”. Having worked in the outreach department for about one and a half years, it’s safe to say I’ve given this message to hundreds of children and adults. Ironically, until this encounter, I hadn't ever had to use this advice myself!

Helping a turtle avoid an untimely end like that for the first time was special in its own right, but it’s not what made that day so memorable to me. It was the fact that when my brain registered a turtle in the road, instinct took over. I didn’t take time to decide if such a small animal’s life was important enough for me to be late for work. Instead, my actions were immediately guided by the values and knowledge that have been ingrained into me throughout my time at the Wildlife Center like they were second nature – and that makes me hopeful! Hopeful that the messages and ideas that I’m giving to the world about protecting wildlife and the environment are being heard, and are being ingrained into others’ minds too.

I’ll be thinking of that little turtle for a long time to come! When I do, I’ll be reminded of not only this past year, but also of how lucky I am to be sharing the Center’s stories with the world and cultivating the next generation of wildlife heroes.

--Alex

Check out all of our year-in-review posts!