Watch out for wildlife during rainy season

June 14, 2024

Two Florida softshell turtles and two double-crested cormorants were among the ninety animals admitted to the von Arx Wildlife Hospital at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida this past week. Other admissions include two swallow-tailed kites, a white ibis, five mourning doves, a least tern, a peninsula cooter and a marsh rabbit.

The Florida softshell turtle was one of two admitted within five minutes of each other, both victims of vehicle strikes. The softshell turtles were alert when examined and each had significant “road rash” on their carapaces and were bleeding. Along with the road rash, one turtle also had a fractured bridge, a fractured carapace and blood in her mouth indicating internal injuries. Radiographs showed both turtles were gravid females. One turtle was carrying nineteen eggs and the other twenty-one eggs. 

Staff provided both turtles with pain medication and settled them in the ICU. One turtle did not survive her injuries; the other continues to be closely monitored while recovering in the reptile room at the von Arx Wildlife Hospital.

The recent heavy rains have many turtles on the move. Standing water provides alternate options for foraging while flooding may cause female turtles to seek dry land to lay their eggs. 

If you see a turtle crossing the road, safely pull over without putting yourself or other motorists at risk and offer assistance. Be mindful that it is a life or death situation when you see a turtle crossing a road. If you or other motorists don’t take immediate action, the likelihood that the turtle will make it safely across the road is very low. 

If the turtle is uninjured, move it out of harm’s way in the direction it was heading. It is best to cover the turtle’s head and body with a towel or t-shirt when picking it up. The turtle will not like the feel of the towel touching its body making it more likely it will tuck its head and legs into its shell. 

Never put a turtle directly in a lake or pond, instead place it near the edge of the water. Turtles are often misidentified and a land turtle or tortoise may drown if put in deep water.

If the turtle is injured, don’t not leave the turtle suffering on the side of the road; please bring it to the wildlife hospital for immediate medical assistance. Always call the staff at the wildlife hospital for guidance if you have any questions. The start of rainy season increases the likelihood of seeing turtles crossing the road so be prepared and keep a towel and ventilated box in your car, that way you are easily able to offer a helping hand.

Two Double-Crested Cormorants

The two double-crested cormorants were admitted after sustaining severe injuries, one cormorant’s cause of injury was undetermined. The bird was seen on the beach not attempting to move when approached by beachgoers. The Meister family (TJ, Trista and Ryan) were at the beach, realized the bird needed help and worked together to rescue the bird. TJ covered the cormorant with a t-shirt making it easier to hold while his wife, Trista, drove and their daughter, Ryan called the von Arx Wildlife Hospital to let staff know they were on their way. 

A double-crested cormorant rests on the beach. Beach goers realized the bird was injured, rescued the bird and brought it to the von Arx Wildlife Hospital for care.

The cormorant was alert, strong and defensive when passed off to hospital staff yet it was immediately apparent the bird had significant injuries due to the amount of fresh blood on the t-shirt. TJ mentioned he had felt a large mass on the cormorant’s abdomen when he captured the bird. A physical exam revealed the cormorant’s abdominal wall and stomach were lacerated. The stomach and the liver were protruding from the breach in the abdominal wall. The injury was so severe that humane euthanasia was the only treatment option. While not the outcome anyone hoped for, hospital staff was incredibly grateful the family took the time to help the cormorant thereby mitigating the pain and suffering the cormorant endured. 

The second cormorant admitted was injured in a boat strike on Marco Island; its injuries proved fatal as well. In this instance, the cormorant suffered a deep laceration across its lower body; he suffered spinal trauma, a fractured right leg as well as significant internal damage. The only treatment option was humane euthanasia.

Summertime brings scores of people to local beaches as well as increased boat traffic; this increases the chances of negative interactions between humans and animals.

If you are enjoying a day on your boat, keep a lookout for wildlife by designating a spotter. Wearing polarized sunglasses reduces glare and may allow you to see marine life more easily. Look for animals such as sea turtles, dolphins and pelagic birds. Seabirds may dive in an attempt to get out of the way of an approaching boat but if the boat is going at a high speed, the bird may not dive fast enough to avoid being struck by the propellers.

Slow your boat immediately if you see marine life and keep your distance. Always observe and follow all slow speed and no wake zones. Keep a ventilated box and towel on your boat so if you encounter an animal in distress, you will be able to offer assistance. It is quite common for people to find animals in distress even when boating several miles offshore. Call the wildlife hospital is you have questions or concerns.

Recent Releases

Four fish crows, six northern mockingbirds, two eastern cottontails, a swallow-tailed kite, a barred owl, a blue jay, two ruddy turnstones, a brown thrasher, three mourning doves, two Virginia opossums, two ospreys, a common grackle and four grey squirrels were released this past week.

Opportunities to Help

Support the Conservancy’s mission to protect native wildlife. The von Arx Wildlife Hospital held our ninth annual Wildlife Hospital Baby Shower to raise awareness and support for the hospital’s youngest, most fragile patients. Hospital staff is incredibly grateful to everyone who has already donated items in support of our work. Baby Shower gifts can be donated online through the Conservancy’s Amazon and Chewy Wish Lists through the month of June. Visit list. Each donation supports the Conservancy’s work to protect Southwest Florida’s water, land, wildlife and future.

Joanna Fitzgerald is the Director of the von Arx Wildlife Hospital at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, 1495 Smith Preserve Way, Naples, Florida 34102. Call 239-262-2273 or see