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When an innocent (but ornery) turtle faced death

Mountain Tales: First-hand stories of life in Tehachapi


October 12, 2019

Jon Hammond

A snapping turtle is not a cuddly creature.

One day in 1994, I got a call from Marty Smith, who was the California Department of Fish and Game Warden in Tehachapi at the time. He had received a call from the landlord of an apartment in Golden Hills. A tenant had moved out and left a couple of animals behind. I arrived at the apartment with Marty and found an odd pair: a guinea hen and a snapping turtle. Finding a home for the guinea hen was no problem, but the turtle was another matter. "I guess it's the end of the line for this big guy," Marty said. Because snapping turtles are not native to California, possession of one without a permit is illegal, and Fish and Game had a policy of destroying alien species.

I didn't think that was fair, since the turtle's only crime to have the misfortune of being captured and brought west. He was large, probably 25 years old or more. Marty took possession of the turtle as state evidence and I started to make phone calls. Robin Freckman of the Tehachapi Humane Society contacted a counterpart from a Humane Society in Florida who agreed to release the turtle in a pond at a wildlife refuge. Kind-hearted Dorrie Walsh of The Groomer donated a plastic kennel and Dr. Jackie Jones of the Tehachapi Veterinary Hospital examined the unfriendly snapper and gave him a certificate for a clean bill of health. The turtle stayed in my bathtub for a couple of days. Then I bought a one-way ticket for $63 and he took an American Airlines flight out of Meadows Field in Bakersfield, bound for Miami as KBAK 29 TV filmed the departure. He may be living in his pond at the nature reserve to this day. Tehachapi people are great and this was just one more example of how they work together to get good things done.

Jon Hammond

Jon Hammond is a fourth generation Kern County resident who has photographed and written about the Tehachapi Mountains for 38 years. He lives on a farm his family started in 1921, and is a speaker of Nuwä, the Tehachapi Indian language.


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