Group tracks turtles to help environment

Local News

WESTVILLE, Ill. (WCIA) — How much can turtles tell us about the environment we live in? More than you might think. 

That’s why Matt Allender, director of the UI Wildlife Epidemiology Lab, tracks and tests turtles. He couldn’t do it without the help of John Rucker’s Boykin Spaniels. Rucker says his dogs started bringing him turtles years ago when he got an idea. 

“It occurred to me it might be a useful skill they have,” Rucker said.

Allender says the skill is priceless.

“As turtles are demonstrating poor or better health, it tells us about the environment we draw all our resources from,” Allender said.

He says the turtles indicate whether or not those natural resources are healthy. 

“In some places in the world, places where you have high prevalence of certain diseases that only turtles get, are also the same regions there’s higher diabetes or higher heart disease in people,” he said.

Allender says Rucker’s dogs have helped him capture 3,000 turtles in the past 10 years. He says it’s the largest study of its kind, and Rucker is the only one using Boykin Spaniels this way. 

After the team catches and assesses the turtles, they release them back into the wild and head back to the lab to process the blood work. They say it’s all part of saving the world one turtle at a time. 

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