Turtle that used Lego wheelchair to heal is released in Maryland

Dana Hedgpeth

THE WASHINGTON POST – A turtle that had been injured and had a customised wheelchair built for it from Legos has been released into the wild.

Dubbed ‘Lego turtle’, the male Eastern box turtle had been in the care of the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore.

It was released last Wednesday morning in the city’s Druid Hill Park, and with a transmitter on its back officials said they’ll be able to keep tabs on it in its native habitat.

The turtle’s tale started two years ago, when it was found by a zoo employee in the park and brought to the facility. The turtle had a broken shell and underwent surgery that involved placing metal bone plates, sewing clasps and surgical wire to keep its shell held together.

Senior Director of animal health, conservation and research at the zoo Ellen Bronson said the turtle had fractures on the bottom of its shell. Because of where the fractures were located, “we faced a difficult challenge with maintaining the turtle’s mobility while allowing him to heal properly,” Bronson said.

Garrett Fraess, who was a veterinary student and in a clinical rotation at the zoo, said at the time that it was key to “keep the bottom of the shell off the ground so it could heal properly.” The turtle’s injury was unusual because they often don’t get injuries on the top of their shells, so experts had said that there weren’t repair kits to help it.

“They don’t make turtle wheelchairs,” Fraess said, so he and a team sketched a customised wheelchair. He sent the sketches to a friend in Denmark who is a huge Lego fan, and she made a wheelchair for the turtle.

The wheelchair worked because the Lego frame surrounded the turtle’s roughly grapefruit-size shell, and with plumber’s putty it attached to the edges of the upper shell, which got it off the ground and allowed it to move its legs, according to Fraess. The Lego wheelchair even allowed it to fully close its shell when he felt threatened.

A wheelchair fashioned out of Legos to help this Eastern box turtle, shown in 2018, recover from a broken shell. PHOTO: MARYLAND ZOO