The Great Turtle Rescue

You never know when you might have the opportunity to save a turtle. 

This past Sunday, Pete and I were gorging ourselves on Whole Foods bread when I received a frantic call from our dear friend Leslie. "We're at the creek. There's a turtle. It's stuck. We thought it was dead. It's very much alive. Can you get me a number? Animal control might not help..."

"LESLIE. Where are you?"

"Third and Nueces."

"Be there in ten."

Pete and I flee the Whole Foods scene and power walk our way to the Shoal Creek trail (rushing because, well, there's a turtle to be rescued and also because I only had an hour before I had to start bar tending). On the way, Pete picks up a long, thick piece of wood, which will soon become his "Turtle Wedgin' Tool".  

We arrive at the scene and I see...nothing. Where is this damn thing? All I see is limestone and trash. Upon closer inspection and mild flip-flop hiking, Henry makes his way into our view. Poor guy. 

It appears he was drifting down the creek one day, toppled over a man-made waterfall contraption and then quickly became wedged in a very narrow part of the creek bed. From the looks of his shell, coated with moss and algae, it seems like Henry had been acting as a living dam for approximately a month. Maybe more.   

Leslie's husband, Kerry, had been working for quite some time trying to dislodge the turtle by way of the wiggle. Unaware of the snapper's fierce disposition and ability to chomp off a human hand in one ferocious bite, Kerry cradled the turtle underneath its serpentine head, trying to free it from the rocks. No luck in that department, but thankfully, no amputated hands either. 

Pete enters the rescue mission, backed with extensive turtle knowledge and a knack for tools. He began by utilizing his "Turtle Wedgin' Tool", sliding it between the rock and Henry's shell, hoping to leverage him free. Fail.

Pete’s next plan involves removing the limestone rock that’s trapping the turtle. But first, stronger, more sophisticated tools are needed. Good thing the Shoal Creek Trail is littered with trash. Keep Austin Beautiful, folks.

Within minutes, Pete and Kerry find a number of metal rods that will surely make great chisels. Using a large rock as the driving force, Pete begins chiseling away at the limestone surrounding Henry.

At this point, Henry’s pissed. Not knowing whether we are friend or foe, he starts snapping. He may be exhausted, but he hasn’t lost any sense of his defense mechanism. Watching from above, Leslie and I squeal like little girls with every snap of his powerful jaw. “Henry, I promise we’re not trying to make turtle soup, dude.”

The chiseling continues. Kerry is now holding Henry’s head under the water with a long bamboo rod, attempting to subdue any further snaps. Pete’s making progress with the rock removal. Henry can now move his body forward slightly, but if he keeps pushing back on the rocks, he’ll never get free. “Relax!”

Pete tries to push him out, but no luck. In fact, Henry’s shell cracks slightly. We keep reassuring ourselves, “It’s better to be free with some pain, then trapped and die a slow death.” But what do we know?

More chiseling. Henry’s becoming more aggressive. He snaps at Kerry’s bamboo, splitting it in two. Much of the rock has become loose now, but it’s still stuck at Henry’s sides. Pete works on scooping out the excess rock scraps, making sure to avoid Henry’s massive claws. Alas, Pete dislodges the chunks! I think I can see Henry’s body moving…

With much anticipation, Pete gives the turtle a little nudge. “Come on, man. Move!” A bigger nudge…and he’s free! Leslie and I cheer in excitement. Kerry and Pete calm their nerves. And Henry…

Henry does nothing. He hangs out in the water, a mere foot from his recent prison. A little anti-climatic, sure. But a victory nonetheless.   

He's moving!

Slowly but surely!

He's free!
Great story, huh!? Two thumbs up for our hero in the half-shell, Henry! Conversely, two thumbs down for Animal Control.

Immediately upon Henry’s discovery, Leslie phoned a number of offices, eventually leading her to Animal Control. She explained the oh-so-devastating situation, asking for turtle-saving assistance.

What Leslie encountered on the other line was an indifferent woman, lounging in the comfort of her office’s air conditioning, chomping on a bag of pretzels. Whilst chewing, the woman claims, “The turtle is in its natural habitat, so it’s out of our jurisdiction. We can’t help you with that ma’am.”

Ok, fine. Animal Control doesn’t assist animals that have fallen victim within their own natural habitat. Makes sense. But the last time I checked, downtown Austin was not a natural environment.

Henry was lodged a mere two feet down from a man-made waterfall/drainage system that appeared to be anything but natural. The amount of trash alone- foam bedding, water bottles, hats, candy wrappers- makes this creek feel completely separated from nature. And the water pollution. Ick.   

Surely, Third and Nueces no longer remains a safe and natural environment for our turtle friends (and all the other Austin animal residents who have been around much longer than we have). We were wrong to assume that Animal Control would, in fact, control this animal situation. I suppose that if they did take any sort of action, it would have involved a cop and a pistol.  

Good thing Leslie and I are equipped with über-macho turtle-saving dudes.