As It Happens5:33Why dozens of turtles march through this Connecticut dry-cleaner each year
How did the turtle cross the road? In Middletown, Conn., with the help of a dry cleaner.
Middletown is home to a Best Cleaners, where an unofficial part of staff member Jennifer Malon’s job has become protecting turtles from perhaps the most perilous stage of their migratory journey: two lanes of asphalt.
Malon and other staff help mother turtles across the road in front of the business and let them follow the path to the marsh where they lay their eggs, which happens to run through the building. Then, once hatched, the babies come back through and staff help them avoid the man-paved death-trap separating them from the pond where they live.
“It was all wetland here before the building was built,” Malon told As It Happens host Nil Köksal.
“So we figured since we kind of took part of their home from them, we feel kind of obligated to at least try to help the ones we can across the roads.”
She’s only worked at the business for five years, but says the shepherding of the turtles has been going on for more than a decade.
The adults start to mosey through in the late spring and babies usually hatch a few months later, according to Matt Dionne, regional manager of the cleaner.
What to do if you come across a turtle while driving
David Seburn, a freshwater turtle specialist with the Canadian Wildlife Federation, says it’s great to hear about the work being done by Best Cleaners’s staff.
“It would be very easy to do nothing. So it’s very rewarding to see people taking care of the wildlife,” he said.
Becoming roadkill is a major threat for turtles, he said, whose natural reaction to the cars that whiz by actually puts them in more danger.
“When a turtle is crossing the road and a car comes by, a turtle’s response is not to run, because turtles can’t run,” he said.
“Their response is to freeze in place and pull their arms and legs and head back into their shell.”
That means a turtle spends more time on the road, which increases the chances they get hit by a car.
For drivers who might spot a turtle as it’s crossing, Seburn says they can pick them up and help them get to safety. He recommends people first pull over to the shoulder and safely make their way onto the road.
“You certainly shouldn’t run onto a busy road,” he said. “You’re just gonna get killed yourself.”
Once it’s safe and the turtle is secured, move it in the direction it was already going, he says, not back where it started.
“If you move it back to the side where it came from, It may just turn around and cross the road after you leave.”
Among the turtles traversing through Best Cleaners are Eastern painted turtles. The ones crossing the road to lay eggs are likely eight, nine or ten years old, Seburn says. If they can survive the journey, they can live decades more.
Malon hopes that with all the attention she and her fellow turtle shepherds are getting, people will lend a helping hand to turtles making their way across roads.
It’s not just turtles that come through Best Cleaners — there are also customers too. Malon says they don’t mind dropping off their delicate fabrics amidst the cold-blooded travellers.
“They’re thrilled about it, actually,” she said. “I’m sure they have taken pictures.”
She estimated the adult turtles that come through are about the size of a shoe box, while the hatchlings can be about the size of a quarter. But the humans towering above them always keep a watchful eye.
“We’ve never stepped on or run over any,” Malon affirmed.
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