Zoo Vet Makes House Calls For Sick Turtles
GALVESTON - Eighteen years ago, a lunch plate-sized female Kemp’s ridley sea turtle - one of thousands hatched and nurtured to save the species from extinction - was released off Galveston Island. This May, the turtle, weighing about 100 pounds and laden with dozens of eggs, returned to nest near Jamaica Beach.
It should have been a victorious return, an indication that the endangered species, reduced to only 300 known breeding females in 1985, was making a comeback. But this return was no success.
A boat’s propeller had cleaved a 100-square-inch segment from the animal’s shell, shattering much of what remained. Bleeding, oozing, its mangled rear quarters resembling hamburger meat, the turtle that would be designated LNH110528-01 seemed destined to die.
Discovered by a beachcomber, the animal was taken to the National Marine Fisheries Service’s Galveston turtle hospital and a frantic call was placed to Dr. Joe Flanagan, veterinary chief at the Houston Zoo.
When it comes to sick or injured turtles, Flanagan, 53, is the region’s go-to doc, a gray-haired, avuncular Dr. Oz, Marcus Welby and Dr. Ruth rolled into one. Ben Higgins, manager of the fishery service’s sea turtle program, calls Flanagan’s volunteer work key to his hospital’s success.
“We can’t afford a veterinarian,” he says.