Turtle trap: Driving's dark side

2012-12-28 07:55

CLEMSON, South Carolina - A Clemson University student who set out to determine how to help turtles cross the road ended up getting a glimpse into the dark souls of some humans.

Nathan Weaver put a realistic rubber turtle in the middle of a lane on a busy road near his campus. Then he watched over the next hour as seven drivers deliberately ran over the fake animal. Several more tried, but missed.

Weaver, a 22-year-old student at Clemson's School of Agricultural, Forest and Environmental Sciences, said: "I've heard of people and from friends who knew people that ran over turtles but to see it out here like this was a bit shocking."


To seasoned researchers, the practice wasn't surprising.

The number of box turtles in the US is in slow decline and one big reason is that many wind up as roadkill while crossing the asphalt, a slow-and-steady trip that can take several minutes. (Just like on the N7 north out of Cape Town, where truckers routinely adjust their trajectory to crush a tortoise, or the taxi driver I saw swerve deliberately into a flock of pigeons feeding on spilled grain on the N1 freeway outside Cape Town Harbour. - Editor)

Hal Herzog, a Western Carolina University psychology professor said that humans feel a need to prove their dominance on the planet by taking a two-ton vehicle and squishing a defenceless creature under the tyres. "They aren't thinking, really," he added. "It is not something people think about. It just seems fun at the time. It's the dark side of human nature."


Herzog, author of a book about humans' relationships with animals called "Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat", asked a class of about 110 students preparing for a final exam whether they had intentionally run over a turtle, or been in a car with someone who did.

Thirty-four raised a hands, about two-thirds of them male.

Weaver, who became interested in animals and conservation through the Boy Scouts and TV's "Crocodile Hunter" Steve Irwin (killed by a stingray), wants to figure out the best way to get turtles safely across the road and keep the population from dwindling further.

Among the possible solutions: turtle underpasses or an education campaign aimed at teenagers on "why drivers shouldn't mow down turtles".

The first time Weaver went out to collect data on turtles he chose a spot down the road from a large block of flats that caters to students. He counted 267 vehicles that passed by, seven of them intentionally hitting his rubber reptile.

He went back out a week later, choosing a road in a more suburban area. The second of the 50 cars to pass by that day swerved over the centre line, its right tyres flattening the plastic shell.

"Wow! That didn't take long," Weaver said.


Other cars during the hour missed the turtle but right after his observation period was up, before he could retrieve the model, another car moved to the right to hit the animal as he stood less than six metres away.

"One hit in 50 cars is pretty significant when you consider it might take a turtle 10 minutes to cross the road," Weaver said.

Weaver's professor, Rob Baldwin, said a turtle took seven or eight years to mature enough to breed. In that time it might make several trips across a road to get from one pond to another, looking for food or, later, a place to lay eggs. A female turtle that lives 50 years might lay more than 100 eggs per season but only two or three are likely to survive to reproduce.

Snakes are also run over deliberately; Baldwin wishes that wasn't so and he understands the widespread fear and loathing of snakes, but why anyone would want to run over turtles is a mystery to the professor.

"They seem so helpless and cute," he said. "I want to stop and help them. My kids want to stop and help them. My wife will stop and help turtles no matter how much traffic there is on the road. I can't understand the idea why you would swerve to hit something so helpless."

So, would you (have you?) run over a tortoise or a snake? If you don't get your jollies that way, then tell us what you think of such drivers in our Readers' Comments section below or email Wheels24.


  • phillip.havenga - 2012-12-28 19:18

    I stop and help them across the road, only an excuse for a human being would run over a defenseless animal on purpose.

  • bongani.zulu.7509 - 2012-12-28 19:38

    ...or the wealthy 4x4 who overtook me when I slowed my car to allow a dog in the road to cross and he critically injured it. Of course, as you would expect, didn't stop to help either...

      phillip.havenga - 2012-12-28 20:12

      bongani that is sick the driver of that 4x4 is the lowest type of filth.

      phillip.havenga - 2012-12-28 20:14

      I had a similar incident with a driver of an Audi 4x4 I had to brake to avoid hitting a dog that ran across the road and the idiot flashed his lights and swore at me because he almost went into the back of me the fact that he was doing well over the speed limit apparently was not a consideration to him.

  • Wayne.D.Baxter - 2012-12-29 09:13

    A couple of years back i stopped on the N3 highway just before the entrance to the Ultra city at Estcourt to help a tortoise get to its destiation, it was about half a lane from getting there wen cars came wizzing by and all moving away to avoid it. Then along came an african policeman in a SAPS van and moved out in the lane and hit the tortoise right in front of me.... after passing he moved back into the lane as he should be. Didn't stop or anything. All i saw as he approached were the big grins on his passengers faces. There was malicios intent right from the moment they saw it.... I wish i had seen his number plate but i just stood in disbelief at the scene i just witnessed. The poor creature had virtually made it across 1 and a half lanes to be killed. And hat was from the center of the highway, so somewhere along the time it had passed over two lanes to get to the middle.... so sad and so uncalled for.

  • dtangocci - 2012-12-29 10:26

    Humans are sick. The planet needs some population control. Tsunamis, earthquakes, hurricanes - bring them on.

      kevin.geyser.5 - 2012-12-30 13:10

      Birth control in the water systems & compulsory sterilisation at birth for the next 2 generations!

  • willnes.eybers - 2012-12-29 16:30

    I agree it is just plain stupid that people would try and run turtles over or any animal for that matter. But we must not pick turtles up and move them across the road, when they get picked up they urinate and loose all their water in their bodies which takes them weeks to collect, the chance of surviaval is better to walk by themselves then getting carried.

  • pages:
  • 1