Pierre Robert, a Main Line resident and longtime disc jockey for Philadelphia-based WMMR (93.3FM), evidently has a bit of a habit of saving animals in distress, the most recent being "Thomas" the snapping turtle, who on Wednesday was ceremoniously released into the Schuylkill River at .
He once rescued a cat in Gladwyne, and he’s taken two birds to the Schuylkill Center's Wildlife Rehabilitation Clinic. Another time, he ran over the tail of what he said was one of the area’s “kamikaze squirrels”—“squirrels that wake up saying ‘I have a death wish today’ ”—and took that animal to the center, too.
Then, about 14 months ago, Robert was driving along Conshohocken State Road near Gladwyne when he saw a snapping turtle in the road.
At first, he says he wasn’t sure what it was, but he noticed cars—a lot of them, at about 5 p.m. that day in May 2010—going around something. He pulled over and put on his four-way flashers.
“I was shocked that this gigantic creature was in the middle of the road, or off to the right of the road,” Robert said. “And I go, ‘it probably got hit, and it’s probably dead, and maybe I can move it off to the side of the road.’ ”
When he got closer, he saw its shell was cracked and bleeding. Then, the turtle pulled its head into its shell. After calling several local veterinarians who told Robert they wouldn’t take the turtle, he remembered the Schuylkill Wildlife Rehabilitation Center.
It was then that Kyle Korver, a former Philadelphia 76ers player who now plays for the Chicago Bulls, pulled over, asked if he could help, and gave Robert a double-bagged shopping bag to transport the turtle.
Robert put the snapping turtle in the backseat with his golden retriever, Lucy, and took him to the wildlife center.
“And I’m driving there, up to Ridge Avenue, and I’m talking to the turtle,” Robert said. “And this is a true story I’m saying, ‘Don’t give up turtle, hang in there buddy, or girl. Hang in there, you’re gonna make it. Hopefully you’re gonna make it, come on, don’t give up, turtle.’ And lucy’s looking at me like I’m crazy, like, did we have to take on another animal?”
On Tuesday afternoon, Robert was able to help Schuylkill Wildlife Center crews help release “Thomas,” as he so dubbed the turtle on his radio show earlier in the day, back into the Schuylkill River at in Gladwyne.
Robert recounted the story of how he found the turtle and how he named him for a small group of wildlife center employees, volunteers and reporters at the park.
Rick Schubert, director of wildlife rehabilitation at the Schuylkill Center's Wildlife Rehabilitation Clinic, was on hand to answer questions, along with Executive Director Mike Weilbacher.
“We’re almost positive it was hit by a car, because the wounds on it are indicative it was hit by a car,” Schubert said. “We didn’t think it was going to make it when we first saw it because it was very badly injured. It actually had a very large portion of the carapace, which is the top part of the shell of the animal, was avulsed, meaning torn off… So there was a lot of blood, a lot of blood loss and a lot of missing tissue.”
A turtle’s shell is living tissue, Schubert explained. It bleeds, and the animal feels pain, he said.
They cleaned and dressed the wound for months and provided the turtle with fluid and antibiotic therapy. Turtles move and heal slowly, and while the turtle’s shell is still scarred, the animal had healed and was ready to be returned to its natural habitat, Schubert said.
But Schubert cautioned against picking up a snapping turtle if you don’t know how since their necks can extend so far and so quickly. Even in the turtle’s injured state, it could have hurt Robert, he said. He demonstrated how to pick up a snapping turtle—around the lower half of its shell and avoiding the top half, which the turtle can reach by snapping its neck back, and avoiding the tail, which could injure the turtle.
“The amazing thing about turtles, the reason that we respect them so much, is because—other than the fact they’ve been around for so long—they are like little tanks,” Schubert said. “They can take damage to their bodies that would kill a mammal or a bird 10 times over. So you really, really have to respect a creature that can survive that amount of damage, being run over by a car or a tractor or a lawnmower, and still heal."
For more information about the Schuylkill Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, visit their website at www.schuylkillcenter.org or call them at 215-482-8217.