How Lego and ingenuity helped an injured turtle
In this Sept. 6, 2018 photo provided by the Maryland Zoo, a wild turtle with a broken shell gets around on a wheelchair made of Legos while on the mend at the zoo in Baltimore. (Sinclair Miller/The Maryland Zoo via AP)
Published Thursday, September 27, 2018 12:57PM EDT
Last Updated Sunday, September 30, 2018 1:39PM EDT
A turtle with a broken shell is on the mend after Maryland Zoo veterinarians gave it a custom-made temporary wheelchair made out of Lego blocks.
“They don’t make turtle-sized wheelchairs. So, we drew some sketches of a customized wheelchair and sent them to a friend who is a Lego enthusiast,” said veterinary studentGarrett Fraess, who is currently doing a clinical rotation at the zoo.
“She was willing to send some of her (Lego) collection over to us… and we were able to modify it for the turtle,” he said in a video posted to the Maryland Zoo YouTube channel. He said he was worried that it would have been seen as a “zany idea.”
“I was surprised how well it turned out and how well he was able to express his normal behaviours,” he added. “He can turn on a dime like a normal turtle.”
In July, the injured wild Eastern box turtle was found by a zoo employee in Druid Hill Park, located several minutes from the zoo. The veterinary team then performed surgery on the animal’s fractured 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,” said Dr. Ellen Bronson, senior director of animal health, conservation and research at the zoo, in a press release.
The zoo’s vet team stabilized the turtle’s severely broken shell with metal bone plates and surgical wire, while the Lego wheelchair helps hold delicate shell fragments together.
Fraess said it was important to keep the shell off the ground so that it could heal properly. A few weeks after the surgery, the turtle was given the wheelchair which accomplished that and allowed his legs to move.
The small Lego frame surrounds his shell and sits on four Lego wheels.Plumber’s putty has been attached to the edges of the turtle’s upper shell which helpsto raise the animal off the ground.
“He never even hesitated,” Fraess said. “He took off and has been doing great. Turtles are really good at healing as long as the shell remains stable”
The turtle is likely to use the makeshift wheelchair through the winter until the spring when all the shell fragments have fused together and healed. Fraess said healing could take as long as a year.
“Turtles heal much slower than mammals and birds, since their metabolism is slower,” Bronson explained. Since 1996, the zoo has been leading the Druid Hill Park Eastern box turtle monitoring project,which tags wild turtles in order to help with conservation efforts for the species which has been rapidly declining in recent years.
“This particular turtle is was originally tagged in 2000, making him at least 18-years-old,” she said. “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.”
With a file from The Associated Press