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Photo shows why you should stop for injured turtles on roads ‘even if they look dead’

Carolina Waterfowl Rescue

It can take weeks for a turtle to die — even one hit by a car and left on the roadside, according to an animal rescue group in North Carolina.

Carolina Waterfowl Rescue is pleading with drivers to check on injured turtles near the road after finding a 100-pound tortoise that was likely struck by a vehicle on a South Carolina roadside. It took days, maybe weeks, for the animal to die.

“Even turtles that look dead may still be alive,” Executive Director Jennifer Gordon told McClatchy news group Wednesday. “If you see one along the side of the road always make sure it’s safe to stop, then check the turtle for injuries.”

Turtles have a very slow metabolism — like most reptiles — and can go weeks without eating, she said. That’s also why it can take so long for them to die.

“He was hit but laid on the side of the road, probably for days, and just baked to death,” rescuers said in the post.

Gordon said fresh blood is a clear sign the turtle is likely still alive, but drivers can also pinch the leg to see if there’s a response or watch them for a few minutes to see if they are breathing.

But it’s best to pick them up immediately if they are — turtles can sometimes continue moving even after a life-threatening injury, she said.

“When people call us with a location, by the time we get there someone has hit the turtle again or it has disappeared and we can’t find it,” Gordon said in a Facebook message. “So it’s very important that (you) pick the turtle up off the road and take it to someone.”

She said most turtles won’t be as big as the one rescuers found Tuesday in Chester, South Carolina, making them much easier to move.

Chester is less than 30 miles from the North Carolina border.

That turtle was a sulcata, also known as an African spurred tortoise, which can weigh up to 200 pounds if they’re male and 90 pounds if they’re female, according to the San Diego Zoo.

Their lifespan is between 80 and 100 years.

Sulcata tortoises aren’t a native species to the Carolinas, Gordon said. But they are popular to breed in the southern United States where the climate is warm enough for them to stay outside year-round, according to Reptiles Magazine.

Carolina Waterfowl suspected the one found Tuesday was a “dumped or escaped” pet.

Someone from the area whose turtle went missing three weeks ago has contacted the group but asked to remain anonymous, Gordon said.

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Hayley is a Real Time reporter at The Charlotte Observer covering breaking news and trending stories in the Carolinas. She also created the Observer’s unofficial bird beat (est. 2015) with a summer full of ornithological-related content, including a story about Barred Owls in love.