"Turtle Dogs" Assist UI Researcher

Uploaded by Illinois1867 on 18.06.2012

My name is Dr. Matt Allender, and I’m a wildlife veterinarian and visiting instructor
here at the College of Veterinary Medicine.
We’re trying to save the world, one box turtle at a time. We’re trying to do that
by monitoring the health and diseases that are in box turtles around the United States.
So we are going out with Biologists and we are looking at the populations of box turtles
through height, weight, length, we’re also collecting blood samples, so I’m looking
at the eyes, the nose, the throat, looking at the legs, and looking at the shell. The
turtle dogs are Boykin spaniels, and the dogs just live to find turtles. The days they don’t
find turtles, they get a little depressed, a little sad. They are a wonderful mechanism
to help turtle conservation because they can find so many animals. We can be out with 16
individual humans, out looking for turtles, and at most find 1 turtle for every 4 or 5
search hours. Whereas with the dogs, they can find 2 ? turtles per search hour of dogs,
so it’s just remarkable what they can find. The dogs work in a coordinated pattern to
find turtles at an incredible rate. They are owned by a wonderful individual named John
John: Well, I was living in the mountains of east Tennessee, where there are a lot of
box turtles, eastern box turtles, and I had one boykin spaniel at the time, he had sort
of a mystical, interesting personality, and one day he just started bringing me box turtles,
and I praised him, I didn’t encourage him, but I praised him, he comprehended that I
was interested in them, so he took it upon himself to find more, and more, and more,
and he became absolutely obsessed with it. And then I got another dog, and he started
doing the same thing, gradually, word of mouth got around, and I started getting some requests
from researchers to go and catch turtles for them.
Matt: We’re testing for infection, through white blood cell count, we’re looking for
anemia, we’re looking for the immune response through antibodies. We are also looking at
kidney and liver function, and electrolytes. We’re looking at specific diseases like
Rhinovirus, which causes mortality events and outbreaks across the United States in
both amphibians and mammals. Box Turtles specifically are a really good indicator of our environmental
health. They are ectothermic animals, so that they rely on everything in their environment
for growth, and reproduction, and nutrition. They are long lived animals. So we can look
at their health over many decades of time. And then they have relatively small home ranges.
So their home range, their health is directly related to the health of that area. So if
we look at animals in Vermillion County, we can get a direct result of the health in Vermillion
John: A lot of people, including myself, are fascinated by the architecture of their shell.
They can completely close up and go inside, it’s quite an amazing strategy, to live
slow, die slow, and whatever danger, just go inside your house and close the door and
wait until the danger goes away. Turtles are just fascinating, so I’m out here to help
as much as I can, we’re trying to learn all we can, try to hold all the turtle diseases
at bay until we can learn more about them.
Matt: We started analyzing all the samples, and all the values we’ve gotten so far appear
to be similar to other turtles in Illinois and in Tennessee. There’s still a lot more
to do, we only have a small portion, but this will be crucial data to establish the health
of this population. We need to look at this for the next 10 years. We can say that this
turtle population is healthy, the environment is healthy, or it’s not, and we can make
improvements that are better for the turtle and better for people.