Besides having a really goofy name, the Cooter has a seriously tough life. For one thing, it can be found in only one place on earth – in just one county, in just one state. Ours.
And, apparently, some of them have been calling the proposed site of a Middleboro casino their home.
Housing developments, agricultural expansion, pollution, roads, and diversion of waterways have pushed the Cooter to the brink of oblivion. Close to 100% of them don’t make it past their first year thanks to fish and frogs and snapping turtles. And their sex life doesn’t help, either, since they don’t reach breeding age for 15 to 20 years, which puts them well behind the MTV generation.
So, if you’re a Northern Red Bellied Cooter, and you make it through your first year of life, bump into your soulmate a decade and a half down the line, and then you're lucky enough to find exactly the right type of soil that also just happens to be located within 100 yards of a pond, you’re pretty much the future of the species.
Which is why the Northern Red Bellied Cooter proved worthy, in 1980 of protection by the Endangered Species Act. Endangered. That’s the big one. It's the Superbowl ring for stuggling animals everywhere.
Thankfully, the Cooters have been getting some assistance during their slow determined trek to survive. Biologists, cranberry growers and even private landowners have been helping to identify and protect the Cooter. Headstarting programs, which involve removing turtle eggs from their nests, raising the hatchlings in captivity, and releasing the babies back into the wild when they are too big for many predators to eat, are a painstaking, but crucial effort to keep the turtle from what looks like a sure date with extinction.
But will it be enough to keep the Cooters safe from those stalwart stewards of the earth we’ve come to know so well – billionaire casino developers? Will their tough little shells protect them from the impact of a mega resort casino? And who gets the mitigation money if casino construction wipes them of the face of the earth?
After the events of the summer, I often wonder if those of us who truly care about the character and health of our region are quickly becoming our own endangered species. But could it be possible that all the efforts that have gone into protecting the little Northern Red Bellied Cooter from extinction will, in the end, result in our own salvation from marauding preditors.
Speaking of whom... casino developers, the Governor, the Middleboro Board of Selectmen and their devoted boosters like to brag that that they’ll succeed in putting a casino on the South Shore. But perhaps the Northern Red Bellied Cooter, by slowly and steadily hanging on to life will help us win the race.
The hare soon left the tortoise far behind and, confident of winning, he decided to take a nap midway through the course. When he awoke, however, he found that his competitor, crawling slowly but steadily, had already won the race.
- From Aesop's Fable, The Tortoise and the Hare