- An employee at a Florida mall noticed alligators and turtles in a drained concrete detention pond.
- The employee called the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission for help.
- Eventually, she contacted wildlife rescuer Fairl Thomas, who rescued 10 large softshell turtles and released them in a nearby pond.
Turtles and alligators were left without food, water or shade when a concrete retention pond in Florida drained, prompting an area worker to call for help that could have saved their lives.
Melissa Murray, an employee at the Shoppes of Boot Ranch mall in Palm Harbor, said she noticed the animals in the pond in mid-April. The water had been drained and workers were cleaning it up, leaving the animals with only mud and very little water.
She also saw someone who works for the property manager driving through the mud trying to clean everything up.
“I saw there was a turtle and I was like, ‘Hey! Stop the tractor’ to let it know there’s a turtle over here,” she said.
The worker refused to stop, she said, so she called Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Melody Kilborn, a spokeswoman for the organization, said officials responded to two complaints at the mall’s detention basin, one of which was received on May 18.
“After the work on the pond was completed, the pond began to fill with water. The officer observed alligators in the detention pond and noted that they all appeared healthy,” Kilborn wrote.
Property manager Walter Jakubik did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
“A huge concrete pit with some dried up mud”
Murray, who spotted the animals and called for help, spoke up Nice Thomaswho works with organizations to save wildlife.
According to Thomas, it is common for animals in detention ponds to gain access through culverts or underground tunnels. When construction workers began working and draining the pond behind the mall, the animals in it had no way out or into shaded areas.
They didn’t have access to food, shade or water for about five weeks, she said.
She first went to the site on April 22. Murray and another person stopped her and she was shocked by what she saw.
“It was just a huge concrete pit with some dried up mud in it,” Thomas told USA TODAY. “There’s all these turtles huddled in the corners under these pipes that are dripping a few drops of water every 30 seconds. They were just so desperate for that humidity and anything to control their temperature.”
The animals are cold-blooded, so they need sunlight to regulate their temperature. However, weeks of direct sunlight is far too much, she said. This will overheat them.
She also noted that there was “deep mud” in the concrete detention basin. She thinks some animals hid in the mud and came out when it started to dry.
“When I first went there, there were probably six turtles,” Thomas said. “I didn’t see any alligators then and then all of a sudden these alligators appeared and more turtles. So I think they had been living in the mud and slowly came out of the mud as it dried up.”
She called the property manager, Jakubik, to ask permission to go into the pit and rescue the animals, but he would not allow her to do so due to liability or safety concerns, she said. Thomas said the property manager had more authority than she did to call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and ask for help, so she asked him to do it.
“He could have put water in it, which he eventually did, but it took a lot of pressure,” she said. “We just looked for any kind of help we could get.”
In all, Thomas rescued 10 large softshell turtles in two separate attempts. Standing on gravel and concrete, she used a bridge net to pick up the turtles and carry them to safety.
The pond was refilled Thursday, she said.
Thomas, with the help of Kim Titterington, director of the non-profit educational institution Swamp Maiden AdventuresShe found a nearby pond where she could take in the turtles.
Thomas said she is concerned that this could happen again in a different detention basin at the same mall.
Murray, who began the rescue, said Monday afternoon that there are still some alligators in the concrete detention pond she originally called about.
“Just pick up the phone and make a call. It will take you further,” Murray said.
Saleen Martin is a reporter for USA TODAY’s NOW team. She is from Norfolk, Virginia and loves horror, witches, Christmas and food.