Meet Marti

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DSC00857This is Marti.  Marti is an eastern box turtle with an interesting life story.  A few years ago, Marti had a run-in with a lawn mower that resulted in the loss of one of her back feet.  Upon realizing that the turtle had been injured, the lawn mower operator brought her to SIUE’s Turtle Research and Rescue Lab, which collaborated with TreeHouse on turtle rehab.  Rehab was only one aspect of the lab’s work, though.  The researchers there tagged and tracked turtles to learn about their dispersal patterns and population structure.  So, after her wounds had healed, Marti was fitted with a radio tracking device and released on SIUE’s extensive campus.

It wasn’t long before the researchers monitoring Marti’s tracking device realized that something was wrong—she had been stuck in one place for much too long.  So, they went out to find her.  When they located the tortoise, the problem was clear.  The oddly pointed stump of her missing foot had gotten stuck in the ground, and she was unable to get free.  The researchers helped her get loose and decided to give her another shot at life in the wild.  But it wasn’t long before her radio signal stopped moving again, and the researchers had to rescue her once more.  It was obvious that Marti would not be able to survive on her own.

So Marti came to live in TreeHouse’s Education Center.  While there, she delighted and informed a multitude of visitors, helping our snakes and aquatic turtles teach people about reptiles.

We all loved having Marti at TreeHouse, but she spent her days staring out of her terrarium and out the window into the flower beds in front of the Ed Center.  When a TreeHouse volunteer who also happens to be a grade school science teacher mentioned that she would love to have a box turtle in her classroom, but she knew better than to take one out of the wild, we found the perfect solution.  Marti would spend the school year roaming the classroom and helping kids learn about reptiles, and in the summer she would return to TreeHouse.

But when Marti came back this summer, we found it difficult to confine her to her terrarium after the relative freedom she had enjoyed all year.  She went back to spending all her time looking out the window, and maybe we were anthropomorphizing her a bit, but she seemed a little depressed.  So the volunteer who had Marti in her classroom (my mom, actually) donated the materials to build an outdoor enclosure for Marti.

It doesn’t take all that much to keep a turtle in one area—especially one whose missing foot detracts from her ability to dig.  It is much more difficult to keep potentially mischievous raccoons out, so we decided that in order to keep things simple, Marti would only spend the days outside, and we would bring her in overnight.

So now Marti has her own outdoor enclosure, a fenced-in area of vegetation at the base of a huge oak tree.  She has a little pool set into the ground, sun, shade, and a great variety of grubs, worms, leaves, and roots available for the foraging.  The only problem is that she is so well camouflaged under the leaves and pine needles that it can be very difficult to find her when it’s time to bring her in for the night!  As a result, Marti has now been decorated with a few bright blue spots painted on her shell.  If you get the chance to visit TreeHouse this summer, make sure you take a moment to see if you can find her!

Even with her new blue spots, Marti blends into the vegetation pretty easily.

Even with her new blue spots, Marti blends into the vegetation pretty easily.


Belleville Bobcat: An Overdue Conclusion

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It occurred to me the other day that before I took a hiatus from writing here, one of the primary stories I had been chronicling had not yet been wrapped up.  Belle, the bobcat that was brought to TreeHouse last year after being hit by a car, and Bobbie, the kitten she gave birth to while rehabilitating, concluded their stay at TreeHouse last October.  For anyone who hasn’t heard the amazing story of how Belle and Bobbie came to be TreeHouse’s guests, you can read about it here.  And thanks to the trail camera donated by a reader of this blog, we were able to watch Bobbie grow without interfering as he learned from his mother how to be a bobcat.

This picture from the trail camera actually shows Bobbie's first step out of the den.

This picture from the trail camera actually shows Bobbie’s first step out of the den.

I could go on for twenty pages talking about all the incredible (and adorable!) behaviors and interactions we witnessed between Belle and Bobbie thanks to the trail camera, but luckily I don’t have to.  The best videos are available for anyone to view on our YouTube channel.

Our number one priority with the bobcats was to ensure that they would both be able to return to the wild as soon as Bobbie was old enough to take care of himself, so we erected a privacy fence around the cage and strictly prohibited visitors and even volunteers from that area.  A handful of interns and volunteers were responsible for all bobcat care, keeping the number of humans they became comfortable with at an absolute minimum so that Belle was able to raise her son wild.

Bobcats spend an extended period of time with their mothers, and this interaction is vitally important for their behavioral development.

Bobcats spend an extended period of time with their mothers, and this interaction is vitally important for their behavioral development.

Ultimately, Belle resided at TreeHouse for about seven months.  In October, one week before Bobbie reached six months of age, mother and son were released in a wildlife conservation area in southern Illinois. Their release site was deep in optimal bobcat habitat—plenty of dense vegetation, steep slopes, caves, and spring-fed streams.  We couldn’t have designed a better place for them to live.

In the actual moment we opened the crates to let them go free, it was—as is often the case with mammal releases—a bit anticlimactic.  After a minute in which they both seemed to debate whether they were safer inside or outside their crates, Belle took her first cautious peek out.  Slowly and deliberately, alert and testing the air at every step, she stalked off into the woods in the direction opposite the spot from which the humans were watching.  Bobbie apparently decided that his crate was the safest spot, and finally we had to unscrew the top in order to get him to leave.  As soon as the top was removed, though, he took off like a shot, without a backward glance.  A video of the release is also available on YouTube.

Watching through the lens of the trail camera over the course of half a year, we witnessed Bobbie grow from a squirmy dark blob at the back of the den box into a wild and rambunctious young bobcat.  We saw his first steps outside the den box and his first attempt to reach the ground level of the cage.  We watched him snuggling with his mother, being bathed by her, and later ambushing her for rounds of play-fighting.  As with all carnivores we release, we needed to be sure that he was capable of hunting to provide food for himself, so we also observed his first encounter with live prey and his first kill.

When we released Belle and Bobbie, several people asked me if I was sad to see them go.  Although I can understand why someone might think I would be sad—of course I grew attached to them as I cared for them and watched their lives unfold—I can honestly say that their release wasn’t even bittersweet.  It was only sweet.  A successful release to a habitat like the one Belle and Bobbie were sent to is exactly what a wildlife rehabber hopes to achieve for every animal.  If I could write the perfect ending to Belle and Bobbie’s story, it would be this: “And they never saw another human as long as they lived.”

Bobbie, a few days before his release.

Bobbie, a few days before his release.