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West Nyack, Blauvelt Residents Help Snapping Turtles Stay Safe On Roads

A snapping turtle gets a hand crossing the Western Highway in Rockland County last spring.
A snapping turtle gets a hand crossing the Western Highway in Rockland County last spring. Photo Credit: The Turtles of Western Highway/Facebook
A turtle "crossing guard" warns drivers to keep an eye out for the maddingly slow critters on Western Highway in Rockland County.
A turtle "crossing guard" warns drivers to keep an eye out for the maddingly slow critters on Western Highway in Rockland County. Photo Credit: The Turtles of Western Highway/Facebook
Baby snapping turtles emerge from their eggs. The orphans were hand-raised with the help of a veterinarian.
Baby snapping turtles emerge from their eggs. The orphans were hand-raised with the help of a veterinarian. Photo Credit: The Turtles of Western Highway/Facebook
A baby snapping turtle.
A baby snapping turtle. Photo Credit: Hudson Valley Humane Society/Facebook
Veterinarian Zach Whitman has helped rescue orphaned snapping turtles.
Veterinarian Zach Whitman has helped rescue orphaned snapping turtles. Photo Credit: Zach Whitman/LinkedIn

How do the snapping turtles cross the road in Blauvelt and West Nyack?

Relatively safely, with the help of fans of the scary looking reptiles.

Zach Whitman, a veterinarian in Putnam County’s Carmel, has been working with a group in Rockland that has been trying to keep the critters from being run over by cars on busy Western Highway.

According to Whitman, every spring dozens of female snappers emerge from a wetlands located between the highway and Sickletown Road in Blauvelt and West Nyack and head for prime egg-laying territory on the other side.

In one particular spot, there is a landscaping business with “huge piles of dirt” where the mama turtles love to make nests, Whitman said.

There are also temptingly soft patches of dirt in the well-tended gardens of folks who live in the area, he added.

Turtle migration is a normal occurrence in nature, the vet said, adding: “What makes it unique is the volume. In the spring, you might see 20 to 30 turtles crossing the road.”

Unfortunately, he said, a lot of the turtles get squashed in the process. And even if they manage to lay eggs, a lot of them are gobbled up by predators.

“There’s a crazy amount of raccoons around there,” Whitman said.

Whitman used to work in Valley Cottage. Last spring, he was brought two injured snappers by the group, The Turtles of Western Highway.

(Orange-crossing-vest-wearing members of TTWH have taken to escorting the turtles across the road. From May 15 to June 10, they can also be seen standing on the sides waving yellow signs warning: “Turtles in Road” and “Caution – Stopped Cars.”)

While unable to save the expectant turtle moms, Whitman managed to remove their eggs, which he incubated. He then was the proud papa of about 43 hatchlings.

Just what do baby snapping turtles eat?

“Anything that fits in their tiny mouths; they’re not picky,” Whitman said.

The orphans chowed down on everything from commercial turtle pellets and earthworms to shrimp and crickets, he said.

On Wednesday, Whitman and a dozen other folks released the babies into the Hackensack River north of Lake Tappan.

The property where they freed them is owned by Suez, a Rockland water company.

The company has been very cooperative about the allowing them access to the watershed, Whitman said.

The actual release of their charges into the wild was “kind of anticlimactic,” the vet said.

“They just kind of disappeared into the mud.”

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