Chelonian Husbandry: The Basics

They say that “time flies when you are having fun,” but the same can also be said when you are busy. At the Wildlife Center of Virginia, both are true. I came to the Wildlife Center for the fall rehabilitation externship program, and it has had me doing a lot of different things. Every day was a different experience, despite having some things set as a weekly routine: weighing patients, cleaning filters in the reptile room, and hosing down different enclosures and flight pens. And I have enjoyed every single bit of it! From creancing birds to cleaning bear cages, from providing patients with enrichment to releasing rehabilitated patients, from exercising raptors in their flight cages to the daily husbandry tasks of all the patients, all of it has been educational and enlightening. And it is one group of patients that I feel has been really enlightening for me -- the chelonians.

Chelonians, a.k.a. turtles, are a group of animal that I have not had much experience in caring for with previous wildlife rehabilitation centers, but after working with the Wildlife Center of Virginia, I feel they are a group of animals that I am much more knowledgeable about when it comes to providing for their needs.

At the Center, turtles, snakes, and lizards have their own special room: The Reptile Room. This particular room is set away from the other patients to keep the temperature at a comfortable range for reptiles. Inside the room you will find stacks of hard plastic enclosures for the terrestrial turtles. Each has a sliding door, a temperature gauge, and a sturdy roof. There are also tubs with filters in the reptile room for the more aquatic turtle species.

Currently at the Wildlife Center the chelonian patients consist of 12 box turtles, two painted turtles, one yellow-bellied slider, one spotted turtle, and one snapping turtle. All of the chelonians are given the same basic care: solitary time, artificial sunlight, areas for them to hide, healthy diet, and soaking and drinking water. The chelonians are kept separate to help limit a possible undetected disease transfer to other reptiles in the room. To further help with this, latex gloves are worn at all times in the room, and are changed in between handling different reptiles or the objects inside their pens.

While it may seem odd to need hiding places as well as artificial sunlight at the same time, it is necessary for a chelonian’s peace of mind. Nobody is in the reptile room all day, and externs and staff only go into the room when necessary. But while we are in the room, the chelonians could see a “monster” coming toward their pen and want to hide. The cover provided for them could be a variety of items -- little houses, daisy mats, handmade newspaper turtle trees, rocks, or bark. When humans are not in the room, the chelonians can eat, bask, drink, bathe, or do whatever else their little hearts’ desire. As for their diets, we provide them produce and insects, not commercially-processed food. The externs are provided special “menus” relaying what each species or groups of chelonians can and should eat.

It is sad that my fall externship has come to an end, but I do look forward to a spring externship with Wildlife Center of Virginia, and see how much more I learn!

WCV Class of 2013 ... and 2014

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