SAVING LIVES: UQ Vets Small Animal Hospital head nurse Gary Fitzgerald is stoked to have saved 15 baby turtles which would have otherwise perished with their injured mother in October.
SAVING LIVES: UQ Vets Small Animal Hospital head nurse Gary Fitzgerald is stoked to have saved 15 baby turtles which would have otherwise perished with their injured mother in October. Melanie Keyte

Rescued turtle hatchlings given second lease on life

FIFTEEN baby turtles have been given a second chance at life, thanks to one UQ Gatton wildlife veterinarian who went above and beyond to ensure their mother's mission was completed.

Gary Fitzgerald was dismayed when a female eastern longneck turtle was presented to the clinic with such extensive injuries the decision was made to euthanise her.

However, the team discovered she was carrying 19 eggs and immediately set to work.

"We decided that if we couldn't save her, we'd try to save the babies," he said.

Mr Fitzgerald performed an emergency caesarean to deliver the eggs before their mother succumbed, and in a move he admitted was beyond his professional obligations, took the eggs home to incubate.

"It's a very rewarding part of my job to be able to save wildlife - especially reptiles, I'm a big fan of reptiles," he said.

"I have the expertise to do it, so I'll take any opportunity to help some reptile wildlife.

"In reality, the main part of the reward is the fact that while unfortunately we were unable to save the mum, I can send her progeny out into the wild and hopefully they'll grow up and lay some eggs of their own."

 

As with most wildlife, Mr Fitzgerald explained turtles were particularly vulnerable to injury at this time of year.

"From spring, it's breeding season so they're very active looking for mates and nesting spots," he said.

"Obviously, as it warms up here, our dams and creeks tend to dry up and they're out looking for new homes.

"Also, females tend to go out to lay their eggs on cloudy days or after rain, so those are the times you'll see turtles on the roads.

"Our wildlife takes a pretty bad beating on the roads, so I think anything we can do to try and limit the damage we do with our cars is good.

"If you do find one, the best idea is to move it safely in the direction it's heading, and if it's injured, get it to us or another wildlife veterinarian.

"We won't be able to save them all, but we can save a few."

The turtles Mr Fitzgerald was ready to release were the second clutch of hatchlings, with the first having already been released early in the new year.

He said while he adored his little charges, it was easy to let them go.

"I think they're extremely cute, and I really like watching these guys hatch and being able to see them grow," he said.

"I do get attached to them to a degree, but the attachment is making sure they can get out into the wild and back to a home where they'll be happy."

The hatchlings would be released into a nearby creek or dam, once a suitable location was found.


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