December 29, 2012

Protecting The Slow Pokes

Question: Why did the turtle cross the road?

Answer: To get to shell-ter.

I know. That’s my lame attempt at a joke to start this blog off light-hearted because in just a few lines, things are going dark. Have you ever been driving down the road and suddenly come upon a turtle crossing the road? Of course, you have. Most of us have. But have you ever stopped to just watch as other people pass the migrating turtle? If your answer is no, then I have a sad surprise in store for you.

Is that enough foreshadowing for you yet?

Okay then, let me tell you what one college senior learned about turtles crossing the road and motorists. According to The Montana Standard website, Clemson University senior Nathan Weaver learned that many people will actually swerve to hit crossing turtles. In his research, he found that people purposely swerved their car toward the turtle instead of swerving to miss the turtle. Pretty sick, right?

As I read through this article and Weaver’s studies, I was just appalled and disgusted by what he found. Two times, Weaver put a realistic rubber turtle in the middle of the road and then stood back to watch the behavior of passing cars. In his first watch, he counted 267 vehicles with seven of them actually hitting the turtle. The second time he went out, the second car that passed by the turtle swerved to hit it. Only fifty cars drove by that day.

Those numbers may not seem like much, but the article explains the problem—turtles do not mature to reproduction age until they are seven or eight. And though female turtles may lay up to 100 eggs in their lifetimes, only two or three will survive to reproduce. Those aren’t good odds especially if one in fifty drivers purposefully swerves to hit a turtle crossing the road and succeeds.

My disgust at this knowledge is multileveled. First of all, turtles are cute, eat a lot of bugs and other varmints humans don’t like, and they usually leave people alone. Furthermore, turtles need our protection.

Beyond that, though, is the fact that someone would purposefully run over another living being for no good reason. I do not have problems with people who hunt for their sustenance. I do have a problem with people who kill just to kill. When someone swerves to hit a turtle on purpose, they are doing the latter. That’s just not cool.

Finally, I’m appalled that people are so callous. I mean, I regularly stop to help turtles along. Sure, I’ve had my share of turtle pee on my hands, but they are simply crossing the road to find another pond, food, or a place to lay their eggs. The least I can do as a human who has likely intruded on their habitat is help them to their destination. To not stop and help a turtle along is understandable—not everyone wants to do that or has time to do it—but to actually want to hit the turtle that is just trying to survive is wrong. That is not survival of the fittest. That is just cruel.

I do not like the knowledge that Mr. Weaver learned from his studies. This makes me uncomfortable and sad. But I would be part of the problem if I did not write about it simply because I fell discomfort with it. If we do not educate ourselves, then we could potentially contribute to the problem. And if we don’t speak up, we definitely become a part of the problem. So the next time you see a turtle, if you don’t want to pick it up and help it to the side of the road, at least just drive away from it. Don’t try to hit it. I assure you, nothing good comes from that.

Image Credit: Stephen Coburn / Shutterstock

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Rayshell E. Clapper is an Associate Professor of English at a rural college in Oklahoma where she teaches Creative Writing, Literature, and Composition classes. She has presented her original fiction and non-fiction at several conferences and events including: Scissortail Creative Writing Festival, Howlers and Yawpers Creativity Symposium, Southwest/Texas Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association Regional Conference, and Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association National Conference. Her publications include Cybersoleil Journal, Sugar Mule Literary Magazine, Red Dirt Anthology, Originals, and Oklahoma English Journal. Beyond her written works, she successfully created a writer's group in rural Oklahoma to support burgeoning writers. The written word is her passion, and all she experiences inspires that passion. She hopes to help inspire others through her words.

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