Stu­dent’s tur­tle project ex­poses hu­mans’ dark side

Austin American-Statesman - - NEWS - By­j­ef­frey Collins

CLEM­SON, S.C. — Clem­son Univer­sity stu­dent Nathan Weaver set out to de­ter­mine how to help tur­tles cross the road. He ended up get­ting a glimpse into the dark souls of some hu­mans.

Weaver put a real­is­tic rub­ber tur­tle in the mid­dle of a lane on a busy road near cam­pus. Then he got out of the way and watched over the next hour as seven drivers swerved and de­lib­er­ately ran over the an­i­mal. Sev­eral more ap­par­ently tried to hit it but missed.

“I’ve heard of peo­ple and from friends who knew peo­ple that ran over tur­tles. But to see it out here like this was a bit shock­ing,” said Weaver, a 22-year-old se­nior in Clem­son’s School of Agri­cul­tural, For­est and En­vi­ron­men­tal Sciences.

To sea­soned re­searchers, the prac­tice wasn’t sur­pris­ing.

The num­ber of box tur­tles is in slow de­cline, and one big rea­son is that many wind up as road­kill while cross­ing the as­phalt, a slow-and-steady trip that can take sev­eral min­utes.

Some­times hu­mans feel a need to prove they are the dom­i­nant species on this planet by tak­ing a 2-ton metal ve­hi­cle and squish­ing a de­fense­less crea­ture un­der the tires, said Hal Her­zog, a West­ern Carolina Univer­sity psychology pro­fes­sor.

“They aren’t think­ing, really. It is not some­thing peo­ple think about. It just seems fun at the time,” Her­zog said. “It is the dark side of hu­man na­ture.”

Her­zog asked a class of about 110 stu­dents get­ting ready to take a fi­nal whether they had in­ten­tion­ally run over a tur­tle, or been in a car with some­one who did. Thir­ty­four stu­dents raised their hands, about twothirds of them male, said Her­zog, au­thor of a book about hu­mans’ re­la­tion­ships with an­i­mals, called “Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat.”

Weaver, who be­came in­ter­ested in an­i­mals and con­ser­va­tion through the Boy Scouts and TV’s “Croc­o­dile Hunter” Steve Ir­win, wants to fig­ure out the best way to get tur­tles safely across the road and keep the pop­u­la­tion from dwin­dling fur­ther.

Among the pos­si­ble so­lu­tions: tur­tle un­der­passes or an ed­u­ca­tion cam­paign aimed at teen- agers on why drivers shouldn’t mow tur­tles down.

The first time Weaver went out to col­lect data on tur­tles, he chose a spot down the road from a big apart­ment com­plex that caters to stu­dents. He counted 267 ve­hi­cles that passed by, seven of them in­ten­tion­ally hit­ting his rub­ber rep­tile.

He went back out about a week later, choos­ing a road in a more res­i­den­tial area. He fol­lowed the same pro­ce­dure, putting the fake tur­tle in the mid­dle of the lane, fac­ing the far side of the road, as if it was early in its jour­ney across. The sec­ond of the 50 cars to pass by that day swerved over the cen­ter line, its right tires pul­ver­iz­ing the plas­tic shell.

Other cars dur­ing the hour missed the tur­tle. But right af­ter his ob­ser­va­tion pe­riod was up, be­fore Weaver could re­trieve the model, an­other car moved to the right to hit the an­i­mal as he stood 20 feet away.

“One hit in 50 cars is pretty sig­nif­i­cant when you con­sider it might take a tur­tle 10 min­utes to cross the road,” Weaver said.

Jef­frey Collins / AP

Clem­son Univer­sity stu­dent Nathan Weaver holds a fake tur­tle he is us­ing in re­search. He places it in roads to see how many drivers in­ten­tion­ally hit it.

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