Specialised sea turtle veterinary care is an important part of rehabilitation at our Turtle Rescue Centre in the Maldives
Dr Katrina Himpson
Katrina is a Scottish vet and ardent wildlife environmentalist. After completing her veterinary studies in Edinburgh, Katrina practised in both Scotland and South Africa, before completing a Master’s degree in biodiversity and conservation with the University of Exeter (UK) in 2021.
Katrina’s research interests focus around human-wildlife dynamics and using spatial ecology to improve the effectiveness of conservation. She loves caring for and safeguarding sea turtles, and plans to use her time in the Maldives to push the boundaries of turtle conservation and medicine. We are pleased to welcome Katrina to our team at Landaa Giraavaru in 2022, as our resident turtle veterinarian.
What’s it like to be a veterinarian working in the Maldives? > Kat’s Diary📝
Every day is different! Several weeks ago, I was brought a baby fruit bat who had been attacked by crows and subsequently lost contact with his mother. We tried unsuccessfully to reunite them, so then decided to raise him until he is old enough to fly. Around a week later, the same thing happened again, this time with a young female. Although we sadly couldn’t reunite them with their mothers, they are both now thriving.
The male is older, bigger and stronger, and has been building up his wing muscles ready to take his first flight, hopefully in the next week or so! Both bats have now been weaned successfully onto fruit (their main adult diet), which is good news for me, as I was having to get up every few hours to feed them overnight! 🍼
Sea Turtle Research in the Maldives 🎓
Although there are various conservation groups working with sea turtles in the Maldives, very few have published research papers, so there’s still a lot we don’t know. This is what I’m trying to help with. As sea turtle conservation is different in different countries, it’s important that information specific to the Maldives is published and made available for the scientific community to learn from.
To increase our collective knowledge of turtle strandings and turtle rehabilitation in the Maldives, I have been analysing our data from the last 12 years. Some interesting facts and conclusions can be drawn from our unique cumulative data set, and I have almost completed a research paper for publication in a scientific journal. There are just a few tweaks needed before it will be ready to send off. Once it’s been submitted there will be a long review process to make sure that it’s good quality, but watch this space… !
Sea Turtles and Environmental Enrichment as part of Effective Rehabilitation – Our latest sea turtle research experiment is currently underway. We have now completed 75% of the filming required for our new turtle behavioural study, and we hope to publish the results soon.
What’s the definition of an ‘unreleasable’ sea turtle? ✏️
We use the term ‘unreleasable’ to describe the rescued turtles with permanent health issues, meaning they could never survive if released back into the ocean. The two main issues are flipper amputations, and buoyancy syndrome, when the turtle is unable to dive below the water surface for any length of time. These challenges mean the turtles would be unable to feed out in the ocean, and the constant floating would make them vulnerable to the heat of the sun, and to collision with passing boat traffic.
adult male Olive Ridley FRISBEE (lost both front flippers)
How can we help sea turtles with permanent injuries, that can never return to the ocean? 🤔
This month, we have been busy looking for new homes for our unreleasable patients through our Flying Turtles Program.
Monica, our intern, has been working hard to help me contact potential aquariums and marine education centres, and we have recently had some good news; we have found somewhere that might be interested in taking at least one of our current patients! This is fantastic news, as the rehomed turtles can act as ambassadors for their species, to help educate a global audience about the threats to sea turtles. There is still some way to go, with an awful lot of planning and paperwork required to fly large marine animals overseas. Watch out for more details in the coming months.
See you at the Rescue Centre 🐢
In a recent webinar, Katrina explains our conservation projects and research in this short video (7 mins)