Pet Columns, Office of Public Engagement, College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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From Broken Shells to Broken Wings: Wildlife Clinic Sees It All

Pet Column for the week of June 15, 2009

Related information:

Related site - Wildlife Medical Clinic

Office of Public Engagement
2001 S. Lincoln Ave.
Urbana, Illinois 61802
Phone: 217/333-2907
Ashley Mitek
Information Specialist

Source - Julia K. Whittington, DVM
When turtles attempt to cross the road, it sometimes does not go as planned. Unlike cars, they only have one gear. If a speedy Ford Mustang comes blazing down the street, turtles caught in the middle have only one hope: their shell.

Although their defenses might protect them from a curious dog or a bad fall, shells are no match for cars in most instances. Freda, a red-eared slider turtle was doing her best to make it to the other side of the street last spring, and unfortunately her trip was timed perfectly for a run-in with a tire. After her shell had been severely cracked, Freda found herself in need of intense veterinary care.

Fortunately, the Wildlife Medical Clinic at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine was nearby and a caring citizen dropped her off. Freda is just one of the many patients the wildlife clinic treats each year. "We will take pretty much any species," says Dr. Julia Whittington, head of the wildlife clinic at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Urbana. The only animals the clinic cannot treat by law are skunks and bats because they carry a high rabies risk in Illinois.

Nearly one year after Freda's accident, Dr. Whittington was proud to say that, "she is ready to be released, but we are just waiting for the weather to warm up." With intensive wound management, pain therapy, and antibacterial medication provided by veterinary students, interns, and clinicians, Freda is now headed back to the wild. Despite her cold blood, she touched the hearts of many during her stay.

Although red-eared sliders usually live close to water, they get into trouble when traveling to lay eggs in the spring. Many times this involves the turtles having to cross roads because of increased urbanization. As a result, the Wildlife Medical Clinic frequently receives turtles that have been hit by cars in the months of April, May, and June. Usually the top portion of their shell, or carapace, has been injured.

Cars seem to be one of the most detrimental objects to wildlife as the clinic also recently released a red-tailed hawk named Dark Princess that had been hit by a vehicle months ago. Dr. Whittington explains that, "a lot of the young of raptor species are not quite as skilled as full grown adults." Consequently, they sometimes get hit by a car when taking advantage of carrion on the side of the road.

Dark Princess probably survived with her fractured wing for some time before arriving at the clinic. By the time she was brought in she not only had a broken wing, but also a dislocated digit and was very thin. With some much needed TLC she put on a few hundred grams, and was released back into the wild once her wing healed.

It is important to note that the Wildlife Medical Clinic is a non-profit organization. It relies solely on donations to treat the animals that are brought in by the public. To learn more about the clinic and its cause, visit or call 217/244-1195.