In July a wild Eastern box turtle was found injured in Druid Hill Park near the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore. A zoo employee took him into the zoo’s hospital for treatment. “He had multiple fractures on his plastron, the bottom part of his shell. Because of the unique placement of the fractures, we faced a difficult challenge with maintaining the turtle’s mobility while allowing him to heal properly,” said Dr. Ellen Bronson, senior director of animal health, conservation, and research at the zoo.
The zoo’s veterinary team did surgery to stabilize the turtle’s shell. Metal bone plates, sewing clasps and surgical wire were used to hold the shell fragments together. “It was important to keep the bottom of the shell off the ground so it could heal properly,” said Garrett Fraess, veterinary extern at the zoo.
Unfortunately, there are no turtle sized wheelchairs that exist. So, Fraess drew some sketches of a customized wheelchair. He sent them to a friend in Denmark – a Lego master – who successfully built it. How exciting! Mr. Turtle gets his very own wheelchair. The Lego wheelchair surrounds the turtle’s shell with a box-shaped frame, plumbers putty attaches the chair to the edges of the turtle’s upper shell. It uses Lego wheels to lift the turtle off the ground, supporting its body so it can move freely.
“He never even hesitated,” said Fraess. “He took off and has been doing great.” Turtles are in fact really good at healing, but it’s important that the shell remains stable. The remarkable thing is, even with the wheelchair strapped to it, the turtle is still able to use the strength of its front legs to move around. This allows him to fully withdraw into his shell if he is feeling threatened, or doesn’t want to see anyone.
The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore has a special project at Druid Hill Park, it has monitored and tagged over 130 turtles since 1996. This turtle was tagged in the year 2000, and it is believed to be 18 years of age. Tracking these turtles is helping the conservationists to learn more about how these creatures survive in an urban park environment.
“Turtles heal much slower than mammals and birds, since their metabolism is slower, so, this turtle will likely use his LEGO wheelchair through the winter and into the spring until all of the fragments have fused together and the shell has completely healed,” said Dr. Bronson.
Once the turtle has fully recovered they will return him back to the park.