Friday, June 18, 2010
Finding Boris the Snapping Turtle
In 1995, my friend Jerry Trevino rescued a baby snapping turtle from being run over by a car and kept it in his apartment for eight years in a small kiddy swimming pool in the living room. Boris was his name and he was very intelligent. He knew his name and would sometimes come out into the kitchen and clomp around and visit with people.
In spring 2003 Jerry decided to release Boris because Boris was getting too big to stay in a 1 bedroom apartment and it just seemed the right thing to do. So Jerry released him into Bond Brook, behind our apartment building. Just a few hundred yards downstream, Bond Brook enters the Kennebec River. I told Jerry it would be a good release site because there was plenty of food and habitat and the banks of the brook and the river are very steep, which prevents the snappers from crossing any roads and getting run over by cars, which is probably the largest cause of death of adult snapping turtles.
When Jerry released Boris into Bond Brook it was in late April, just as the suckers were spawning in the brook. A couple days later I saw a 3 pound sucker bitten in half in the brook behind our apartment building. I reported to Jerry it appeared Boris had quickly figured out how to feed himself. Then for awhile there were no more sightings.
About six weeks later, while I was filming Atlantic sturgeon in the Kennebec River, Boris popped up under the bridge where I was sitting. I knew this snapper was Boris because he was the exact same size, his shell had only a small growth of algae on it, he looked up at me when I said his name, snapping turtles don't usually do that, snapping turtles are not commonly seen in the Kennebec, when you do see them they don't look up at you when you talk to them, and the place where I saw Boris was just across the river from the mouth of Bond Brook where Jerry had let him go. So the probability that it was Boris are much higher than not.
The moment that Boris took off was when I got up and moved toward him. Up until that point I had just been sitting on a rock under the bridge talking to him. I was glad that he did that, since it showed he had quickly re-learned his normal instinct to stay away from people. While people like Jerry and I think of snappers as very kool animals, a lot of people think of them as dangerous, ugly or only useful to run over with large automobiles and then laugh about it. This is one of the risks when you bring a wild animal into captivity and it becomes accustomed to friendly humans and then you release it into a world filled with humans who aren't so respectful of other life. In Rumford, Maine these people are called a "carcass patrol."
If (hopefully) Boris is still tooling around in the Kennebec, he is now 15 years old and much bigger. Unless run over by cars, snapping turtles can live for 50 or more years. Here's a picture of an older female snapper, from Mill Brook on the Presumpscot River in Westbrook. She was getting ready to lay her eggs when I bumped into her:
The music is some weird thing I made up at about 3 a.m. with a casio keyboard and my friend Kenny's alesis drum machine. The goofy howling sound at the beginning is a giant crane and electromagnet at O'Connor's scrap yard up the river, echoing off the river bank.