Deceased turtles possibly victims of predatory animal

Conflicting reports about dead hatchlings received from eyewitnesses

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On Wednesday, Aug. 17, dozens of deceased snapping turtle hatchlings were found on the lawn of the Meadow Croft estate in Sayville.

A local environmentalist group, Humane Long Island, sent an alert to the Department of Environmental Conservation and news organizations that the matter should be investigated, alleging that the hatchlings had been “literally mowed down by county workers,” after reports and photographs surfaced from Bayport resident Karen Hill Maloney.

Marshall Brown, a Sayville resident, founder of the Long Island Conservancy, leader of Save the Great South Bay, and board member of Coastal Research and Education Society of Long Island Inc., had been on-site that morning and observed the strewn carcasses of the baby turtles.

He concluded, “I can say with complete certainty that the nests were predated by raccoons and not mowed over. I was there on a two-hour tour of Meadow Croft on Monday morning and was told of the raccoon raid. I saw the destroyed nests,” he added, “six nests—every nest there—were destroyed in the course of one night. The raccoons also took out a friend’s chicken coop nearby. As he said, ‘Nature is brutal.’”

Brown said that the conservancy will work with Meadow Croft and local volunteers to make sure the nests get much-needed chicken-wire covers next spring to prevent another loss.

Humane Long Island urged “sturdily constructed…hardware cloth” instead of chicken-wire.

The Suffolk County Parks Department commented, “Wildlife biologists who have responded to inspect the site believe that the death of the turtles may be the result of predation by other wildlife species.”

Rebutting the claims from Brown and the initial findings of the investigation launched by the Parks Department, Humane Long Island obtained official statements from two members stating that they did not believe the turtles were predated by other animals. Specifically, Karenlynn Stracher, a licensed wildlife rehabilitator with 30 years of turtle husbandry experience and who examined the nests on-site last Tuesday, said, “…It is clear that these turtles hatched naturally and exited the nests on their own. This is evidenced by turtle shell fragments in and around the nest area and a single direction of exit from the nest, as is clearly shown in pictures. When a raccoon or other predators raid a nest, they consume the nest contents in their entirety.”

Additionally, Leslie Hyder, a Long Island-based licensed raccoon rehabilitator, said, “I firmly do not believe that raccoons did this at all. First and foremost, I noticed that the eggs and shells were still all around. Raccoons love eggshells even more than the yolk…I’ve had turtles in the past, and I’ve never had a problem with the raccoons going after them in any way. If anything, the turtles go right into their shells and close themselves up. The amount of turtles that were killed would have had to have been a lot of them, and I mean a lot.”

The Bayport-Blue Point Heritage Association—which, in conjunction with Suffolk County, is the caretaker of Meadow Croft—president Mary Bailey said, “We have the utmost respect and concern for wildlife at the estate and ensure that we are taking all measures to mitigate risks for snapping turtles from other predatory animals.”

The common snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina) is a species of large freshwater turtle in the family Chelydridae. They have been the official reptile of New York State since 2006.

Common habitats are shallow ponds or streams. Some may inhabit brackish environments, such as estuaries. These sources of water tend to have an abundance of aquatic vegetation due to the shallow pools. Common snapping turtles sometimes bask—though rarely observed—by floating on the surface with only their carapaces exposed, though in the northern parts of their range, they also readily bask on fallen logs in early spring.

In shallow waters, common snapping turtles may lie beneath a muddy bottom with only their heads exposed, stretching their long necks to the surface for an occasional breath. Their nostrils are positioned on the very tip of the snout, effectively functioning as snorkels.

Although common snapping turtles are listed as a species of “least concern” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, decades of road mortality may cause severe population decline in common snapping turtle populations present in urbanized wetlands. 

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