DeSoto County’s First Lego League built a 20-year-old injured turtle's new hind legs out of Lego wheels.
The Central Mississippi Turtle Rescue handles most turtle injuries in Mississippi. Director Chrisy Milbourne said most of the time, they have several turtles that end up needing a foster home while they heal from injuries. Lt. Dan was one of those fostered turtles.
“Our focus is injured wild turtles in the Mississippi area,” Milbourne said. “We have turtles that have been hit by cars, shot, chewed by dogs, caught on fishing lines, you name it. We bring them in, give them medical care, rehabilitate them and get them back into the wild. If their injuries keep them from being released, they’re put up for adoption. We tend to have a lot of turtles that have to stay with us throughout the winters, so we foster them.”
Lt. Dan the turtle was first sent to Central Mississippi Turtle Rescue from the Mississippi Gulf Coast after a veterinarian in Gulfport refused to euthanize him. Milbourne said one of her volunteers connected her with the lego league.
“Lt. Dan is a Gulf Coast Box Turtle that was hit by a car in Ocean Springs,” Milbourne said. “He was brought to a vet that had euthanized several animals that day, and she said she just couldn’t euthanize another animal. Our vet amputated his back legs. We got in touch with the lego league through our foster for him.”
Milbourne said the project to build Lt. Dan’s legs was a great way for kids to see firsthand how animals can be hurt just like humans.
“The kids probably didn’t realize that turtles have injuries just like humans do,” Milbourne said. “Unlike for humans, we don’t have wheelchairs for turtles, so for them to be able to go in and design basically a wheelchair for this animal that wouldn't have had one otherwise is incredibly educational. The outreach through that is great.”
Milbourne said the Central Mississippi Turtle rescue is responsible for most turtle rehabilitation in the state due to lack of resources from other rehab organizations.
“Most turtles that are injured usually end up here with us,” Milbourne said. “There are other rehabs that take all animals, but most don’t have the resources for turtles. Turtles take a long time to heal. Whatever we take to heal, turtles probably take three or four times longer.”
Milbourne said it's important to bring awareness to turtle rescue because finding an injured turtle is common.
“A lot of people see the turtle in the road and they don’t think about it needing help,” Milbourne said. “Turtles suffer pain just like we do, but all it takes is a moment of kindness to get the turtle to safety and get it some help.”
First Lego League coach Brooke DeHaven said the project was a great way for her team to stay in practice and help the community.
“We are a robotics team, and one of the parents from the team reached out to us because she works with turtle rescue,” DeHaven said. “I thought that it would be a fun project with the kids because we are in our off season. It was a good way to keep their skills fresh because this past season was our first season. We knocked out the challenge in about two hours.”
DeHaven said the project instilled determination in her team, which is something they need for their robotics competitions.
“It kept them fresh on the idea of trying things out and retrying,” DeHaven said. “That’s what they do in their competitions. They build bots, test them out and then a lot of the time, they have to go back to the drawing board. So, it was a great way to exercise that and help an animal because they’re all animal lovers.”
The First Lego League focuses on community service whenever they can, and DeHaven said all of the kids on the team are animal lovers.
“Community impact is a big thing for us,” DeHaven said. “It’s actually included in our mission statement, so it was a perfect project for us to do. The league is open to nine to fourteen year olds, but most of our kids are in that younger age range, so it was good for them to do something like this at such a young age.”
Dehaven said the team is making a list of the parts they used for Lt. Dan so that other turtles can benefit from the same kind of structure.
“We’re actually getting a parts list together for the turtle rescue so that they know what parts they need to make more of these,” DeHaven said. “Unfortunately, Lt. Dan will not be the last turtle to need this kind of thing, so we want to help in whatever way we can.”
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