The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore got creative in its efforts to nurse an injured box turtle back to health. Zoo employees designed a LEGO wheelchair to allow the turtle to move around as he heals.
A zoo worker found the wild Eastern Box turtle in Druid Hill Park, adjacent to the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore’s Lower Jones Falls Watershed.
“He had multiple fractures on his plastron, the bottom part of his shell. Because of the unique placement of the fractures, we faced a difficult challenge with maintaining the turtle’s mobility while allowing him to heal properly,” says Dr. Ellen Bronson, the zoo’s senior director of animal health, conservation and research.
First, the veterinary team did surgery to stabilize the turtle’s fractured shell, using metal bone plates, sewing clasps and surgical wire to hold the pieces together.
“It was important to keep the bottom of the shell off the ground so it could heal properly,” said Garrett Fraess, veterinary extern at the Zoo. “They don’t make turtle-sized wheelchairs. So, we drew some sketches of a customized wheelchair and I sent them to a friend who is a LEGO® enthusiast.”
The turtle, who is about the size of a grapefruit, now has his own tiny, colorful wheelchair. It’s attached to him with plumbers’ putty.
See the turtle on the move in the video below:
“He never even hesitated,” said Fraess. “He took off and has been doing great. Turtles are really good at healing as long as the shell remains stable.”
The zoo explains that the wheelchair allows the turtle to exhibit his natural behaviors, like fully closing his shell if he feels threatened. Because turtles heal slowly due to their slow metabolism, the turtle will likely use his wheelchair into next spring.
The Maryland Zoo has led a Druid Hill Park Eastern box turtle monitoring project for the last 22 years. 132 wild turtles have been tagged and released, allowing zoo staff to track how the Maryland native species is thriving in an urban park setting.
The injured turtle had been originally tagged back in 2000, so the zoo knows he must be at least 18 years old.
“We are very happy that he is recovering well from his injuries and we plan to return him to the wild once he is fully healed,” says Bronson.
To help support “LEGO Turtle” and the rest of the Maryland Zoo’s animals, you can make a donation by clicking here.
-Meg Walburn Viviano