Morbidity and Mortality of Reptiles Admitted to the Wildlife Center of Virginia From 1991 to 2000
American Association of Zoo Veterinarians Conference 2002
Jonathan M. Sleeman1, BA, VetMB, MRCVS; Justin D. Brown2, BS
1Wildlife Center of Virginia, Waynesboro, VA, USA; 2Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, VA, USA


Medical records from 694 reptiles admitted to the Wildlife Center of Virginia (WCV) from 1991 to 2000 were reviewed to determine causes of morbidity and mortality. Eighteen species were represented but the majority of cases consisted of five species: eastern box turtle (Terrapene carolina), eastern painted turtle (Chrysemys picta), common snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina), and rat snakes (Elaphe guttata and Elaphe obsoleta). There was a significant increase in reptile cases during the study period both in absolute number and in proportion to the total caseload. Trauma (74.2%) was the most frequent cause of morbidity and mortality followed by unknown or undetermined (13.3%), aural abscessation (7.2%), infectious diseases (2.2%), and nutritional disorders (0.1%). In addition, 3.0% of the cases were healthy animals that had been removed from the wild and consequently brought to the WCV. Causes of morbidity and mortality differed between the five most numerous species. Impact with a motor vehicle was most frequent cause of trauma for eastern box turtles, eastern painted turtles, and common snapping turtles; however, garden-equipment-related trauma was the most frequent cause for rat snakes. Aural abscessation was only seen in eastern box turtles and is associated with significantly high body burdens of organochlorine (OC) pesticides.1 This condition in eastern box turtles may be a good indicator of OC environmental contamination and is being further investigated. Eighty percent of cases occurred between May and September and 65% occurred within the five counties closest to the WCV. The vast majority of morbidity and mortality was the result of human activities. With the expanding human population in Virginia, it is likely that humans will have an increasing impact on the health of wild reptiles.


We thank M. Colby for assistance in analyzing the spatial distribution data and S. Snead for help in retrieving medical records used in this study. We also thank F. Elvinger, S. Holladay, J. Mitchell, and the staff of the Wildlife Center of Virginia who were responsible for medical care of the reptile cases.

Literature Cited

1.  Holladay, S.D., J.C. Wolf, S.A. Smith, D.E. Jones, and J.L. Robertson. 2001. Aural abscesses in wild-caught box turtles (Terrapene carolina): possible role of organochlorine-induced hypovitaminosis A. Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety. 48:99–106.


Speaker Information
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Jonathan M. Sleeman, BA, VetMB, MRCVS
Wildlife Center of Virginia
Waynesboro, VA, USA

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