The third Friday of May is widely celebrated as Endangered Species Day! This year, we’re sharing the story of Nobomvu, one of the loggerhead turtles undergoing rehabilitation at our Turtle Conservation Centre.
Loggerhead turtles (Caretta caretta) are listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Despite being distributed across the globe, their numbers are declining. One of the reasons for this is pollution in many forms: plastic, discarded fishing gear, chemical spills, and more. Nobomvu’s story highlights the impact of pollution (in her case, discarded fishing gear) on turtles.
Nobomvu’s story (in a turtle shell)
Nobomvu (which means “red lady” in Xhosa) is a female loggerhead turtle who was rescued in Gansbaai in July 2021. Named for the unusually red colouration of her head and carapace (top shell) when rescued, Nobomvu’s rehabilitation journey at the Turtle Conservation Centre has touched many lives.
Nobomvu was found completely entangled in an immense, heavy fishing net. As a sub-adult loggerhead turtle, she weighed 54.9kg at the time, so it took 13 volunteers to rescue her from this discarded fishing gear!
Ghost fishing gear (lost or discarded at sea by commercial fishers) is a terrible hazard for air-breathing sea animals like turtles. Entanglement in these traps can result in drowning, as turtles cannot reach the surface for breath. Nobomvu and the fishing net weighed roughly the same (around 50kg) when she was rescued. While she might seem unlucky, Nobomvu is incredibly fortunate to have been stranded while she still had the strength to keep her head above water. And, with the treatment and care of the turtle rehabilitation team, she will one day return to the ocean.
A month after Nobomvu arrived at the Turtle Conservation Centre in 2021, the turtle team became concerned when her appetite decreased, and she stopped using her front right flipper. Our veterinary team promptly conducted X-rays and took joint samples, revealing osteomyelitis (a bone infection caused by bacteria) in Nobomvu’s right flipper. Osteolytic (bone-eating) abrasions have been identified as a secondary effect of traumatic injuries and compromised immune systems. The stress of being stranded, and the injuries associated with entanglement, often result in a compromised immune system in turtles like Nobomvu. Due to turtles’ slow metabolisms, secondary infections like Nobomvu’s only become evident much later than we would expect in mammals.
Since she arrived in 2021, our amazing veterinary team has done everything to keep Nobomvu’s health as stable and positive as possible. This resilient loggerhead turtle has undergone two surgeries and multiple other veterinary tests in her journey to recovery. Our vets conduct regular tests, such as blood cultures, to monitor Nobomvu’s health. She has even been for several CT scans! These give our team an incredibly detailed picture of Nobomvu’s body, from her bones and muscles to her organs and blood vessels. This ensures that she is being treated to the absolute highest standard.
Two years later, Nobomvu’s future is looking brighter!
Nobomvu had her 6th CT scan last week. Our vets were able to see that her elbows are recovering and healing! Although she is not yet ready for release, our turtle team monitors her closely. Every month of her being clear of infection, and growing in strength and confidence, is a sign of hope. During Nobomvu’s two years at the Turtle Conservation Centre, she has been on extensive treatment plans and chronic medication. Excitingly, she has recovered to the point where she is no longer on active treatment.
On 7 May 2023, she was introduced to the I&J Ocean Exhibit, 20kgs heavier than when she arrived at the Turtle Conservation Centre! Nobomvu acclimatised easily to the new, larger space as she had lived there for a short time in January 2022. Now, she is enjoying the freedom to test out her flippers and gain strength. We are hoping that this will be her final pit stop before release!
Today, on Endangered Species Day, we share Nobomvu’s story of hope and resilience. Over the last two years, this special loggerhead has taught us about true strength and has been a wonderful ambassador for turtles. One day, the ocean will welcome her home!
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