Durban - Tragedy has turned to triumph for rescued loggerhead turtle, Keena, who is set to become an ambassador for the iconic species which is famous for nesting on the beaches of northern KwaZulu -Natal.
Keena was found on a beach off isiMangaliso Wetland Park by a turtle tour guide out with visitors on Boxing Day, December 26. Both her front flippers had been amputated and she was bleeding badly. Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife were called to the beach and took the young turtle to uShaka Sea World in Durban.
South African Association for Marine Biological Research (Saambr) vet and curator of animal health at uShaka Sea World, Dr Francois Lampen, said: "We don't know how the turtle was injured, it could have been a poaching incident or it could have been predator-induced such as a shark.
"At the time she was brought in, there was consideration as to whether she would make it or not. She was bleeding profusely and we treated her with antibiotics and painkillers. We also consulted with specialists overseas. She has improved very well, she is swimming and eating," said Lampen this week.
The team at uShaka also discovered that Keena had laid a couple of eggs - with more inside. This week she was being administered oxytocin to help the turtle release the remaining eggs.
"We are hoping they will be fertile eggs. If so, Ezemvelo will collect them and put them in a nest," said Lampen, adding that Keena would not survive if released back into the wild because of the severity of her injuries.
A turtle's front flippers are used for propulsion and the back flippers for direction. Because Keena's front flippers were hacked, she would likely drown if she dived too deeply and would be unable to get on to a beach to lay eggs, as well as being vulnerable to predators.
"She will be under care for the rest of her life and we want her to tell her story to promote conservation for the loggerhead turtle. She has a valuable conservation story to tell for the continuation of her species," said Lampen.
The numbers of sea turtles has improved since a moratorium was passed on the harvesting of the turtles and their eggs. This was done to protect the species which play a key role in both ocean and beach eco-systems.
Turtles flood the ocean with eggs as the survival rate of hatchlings is low, but it takes decades for them to reach sexual maturity.
Lampen said: "It's a minimum of 30 years until they reach maturity and this turtle is a female sub-adult and we suspect it is her first clutch (of eggs). They do breed a lot and flood the ocean with their offspring in the hope some will survive. Turtles are an important part of the ocean system," he said.
The name Keena is of Irish origin and means brave.
The Independent on Saturday