ITHACA, N.Y. –– Cornell University’s Janet L. Swanson Wildlife Hospital rescued more than 150 eggs this summer from pregnant turtles who were struck by cars in New York. Because the turtles were too injured to lay their eggs, Cornell wildlife experts stepped in to help them hatch.

Between May and July, the hospital was able to rescue 150 eggs, according to the university. Of which, 70 hatched at the hospital and the rest hatched in the care of certified wildlife rehabilitators, according to a news release. The eggs were all from snapping turtles, one of the most common New York State species, and all from within the region.

Snapping turtle in the hospital for a check-up (Photo by Anna Lamb/Ithaca Voice)

Alice VanDeMark, a technician at the hospital, said they treat injured wildlife from anywhere, but most people don’t know the hospital exists as a resource.

“They can be from all over the state mostly they’re from a one to two-hour radius of here,” she said. 

In the wild, turtle eggs are buried in the sand to incubate. At the hospital, medical professionals mimic that environment by using a special insulation called vermiculite. Vermiculite is commonly used in gardening as a way to keep soil wet. The insulation is kept warm and damp for approximately 90 days.

Snapping turtle eggs in vermiculite (Photo by Anna Lamb/Ithaca Voice)

Sara Childs-Sanford, chief of service at the wildlife hospital said in a news release that turtle populations are experiencing declines worldwide, including in New York. “Egg incubation at the hospital and release of the hatchlings assist turtle conservation efforts by supporting population numbers,” she said.

Dr. Sara Sokolnik, an intern at the hospital, stressed the importance of their work in general, not just with the turtles.

“On a very basic level, it could be applied to any animal we’re talking about preserving biodiversity and a variety of species in any ecosystem is really important to keep that system healthy and in a way, they serve as sentinels for our environment’s health,” she said. 

Most of the little turtles were released by the end of September, but some are staying in the care of the hospital to be looked after by veterinary students and other volunteers. Full-sized snapping turtles can grow to be 35 pounds and 17 inches long.

“When kept over the winter, the advantage is that they grow quickly and will be much bigger by spring, thus having a better head start when finally released in June,” said VanDeMark.

Drivers should keep an eye out for turtles crossing the road.

“If it’s moving nicely just stop, just let it continue to go,” VanDeMark said. And if anyone is compelled to physically move a turtle, she said, “You want to reach around to the back part of their shell — Never grabbing the tail, just supporting the tail.

Anyone who finds an injured or sick wild animal can contact a local licensed wildlife rehabilitator here or call the Janet L. Swanson Wildlife Health Center at 607-253-3060.

Anna Lamb

Anna Lamb is a reporter for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at alamb@ithacavoice.com