What Not To Do When Helping a Turtle Cross the Road

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Tony Maples Photography


You’re driving along, listening to music, probably on your way to visit someone, or get groceries, or maybe drop the kids off somewhere. Then you see a small bump on the road, something you can’t quite make out. As you get closer, you slow down, until you realize it’s a turtle. The next thought that crosses your mind is how to pull over and help it make its way safely to the other side. Some people are cognizant that there are issues endangering these creatures. In Texas, we’re known to have several species which are hard to come by anymore, including some which are practically prehistoric! Habitat destruction and overexploitation for the pet and meat trades are affecting them. As a result, there are several of their species which are now critically endangered. Here are some tips toward helping one (or many) of them across the road safely, and what not to do in the process.

First, ensure that wherever you may be, it’s safe. Busy roadways and streets are dangerous for not only turtles but those who wish to rescue them. Make sure to pull completely off the road and put your hazard lights on. Prior to stepping out into the roadway, make sure you can be seen by other drivers. Next, determine if the turtle is injured. It may need to be taken to a wildlife center or a vet’s office. If not, proceed with your plan to assist it safely to where it’s headed.

What Not To Do When Helping a Turtle Cross the Road

Photo: Flickr/mahalie stackpole

Next, understand that this turtle is on a mission in its crossing. Do not turn it around. Make sure to take it in the direction it was heading, because, although you may think you mean well, if you turn the turtle around, it will only go back across the road after you drive off. Then, consider the type of turtle it may be. If it’s a snapping turtle, it could be quite aggressive, and you may want to second guess picking it up (although you can still help it). If it’s a mild-mannered creature, picking it up to move it should be relatively easy. To effectively do so, grasp the creature on either side of its shell, ensuring your hands are behind the front legs. If it’s aggressive, it will still be able to kick, but the majority of them will simply opt to tuck themselves in safely. Keep it low to the ground in case the turtle does manage to push your grip away from them. You don’t want it to suffer a fall and injury from dropping from a height. If the creature you’re assisting is, in fact, a large snapping turtle, grab a blunt object (nothing sharp) to simply push it from behind.

What Not To Do When Helping a Turtle Cross the Road


When you have safely placed the turtle on the other side of the road, take some time to watch and ensure it’s headed away from the road, as you first believed, and isn’t turning around to come back. Turtles are also known to have territories that they call home. Although you might think it safer to relocate the creature, please do not drive it off to somewhere you feel is safer. When they’re relocated, they’ll look for ways to get back to their spot, thereby increasing their risk of injury and death. Just do your best, following these simple rules, and the likelihood that the turtle you’re helping will suffer a roadway death will greatly diminish. By undertaking this process, you’re doing one small thing to alter the serious population decline of these creatures, and that’s something you can definitely feel good about.