“The tank he’s in now we’ve had for almost 20 years,” says museum assistant director Michael Clough. “Recently it has had leaks here and there. As we were trying to fix one of the leaks, we realized he’s really outgrown the tank, and it’s time to think about another one.”
Basil is somewhere around 10 years old, Clough estimates, and weighs about 12 pounds. Clough says Basil was taken as a pet by children in Bennington in 2009. Unaware that keeping a wild animal as a pet was illegal, they eventually passed him on to another family who kept him for two more years before taking him to the museum.
After several years of living with people, Basil could not be returned to the wild, and the museum sought and received a permit to keep Basil as an education animal. Clough says Basil is so used to being around people he doesn’t “snap” like most of his species. “One of the main reasons they ‘snap’ is because their defenses out of water are not as good as other animals,” Clough says. “As an education animal, he’s super. We can lift him up and show off his soft belly without being afraid he’s going to bite. You don’t often get to see a snapping turtle with his mouth closed.”
But more than just being unafraid, Basil seems to enjoy the company of humans. Clough says he sometimes takes Basil out on the museum lawn for a little fresh air, and he doesn’t have to worry about him wandering away. “A lot of the museum volunteers are not super comfortable with Basil because he’s so big. So sometimes I’ll take him out and sit working on my laptop on the lawn. Basil stays right next to me, and if I move around, he follows.”
Basil has also made an unusual friend, Clough jokes. About a year and a half ago, the museum put six goldfish in the tank as live food for Basil. Within the first few days, he ate four of the fish. Eventually, he ate the fifth fish. But he appears to have reached an understanding with fish number six. “At first I thought the fish had learned to avoid Basil,” Clough says. “But often you look in the tank and they’re right next to each other. We joke that the fish is alive because he befriended a snapping turtle.”
Basil also eats plants, fruit, mice, aquatic turtle chow, and sometimes bugs, Clough says. “Snapping turtles eat mostly meat, but we try to give him a diverse diet.”
Basil’s current tank simulates a natural habitat with a rocky bottom, aquatic vegetation, and a waterfall that’s part of the filtration system. The new tank, at a projected cost of about $5,500, will provide a significantly larger habitat – almost twice the size of his current home. Clough says Basil will have more space to swim, and the new tank should last for another 20 years. “He’s still young for a snapping turtle,” Clough says. “We can expect him to live for at least another 40 to 50 years and triple in size. Some snapping turtles have been known to live 100 years, and the record-breakers weigh over 70 pounds.”
Clear Solutions, a Keene, NH-based custom plastics manufacturer, donated the original tank, and the same company has agreed to build the new tank, and deliver and install it for free. “The new tank will be made out of Lexan, which is nice because it can’t shatter, and the filtration system we have now will work with the new tank,” Clough says.
For a small nonprofit educational organization, coming up with $5,500 can be daunting, but they’ve already received more than $1,500 in donations for Basil’s new home. And for the first time, the museum has turned to the crowdfunding website GoFundMe.com for the remaining $4,000. In the two days since Basil’s story has been posted on GoFundMe, 17 people have donated $485 in amounts between $5 and $50.
Once the museum reaches their fundraising goal, Clough estimates it will take about three weeks for Clear Solutions to build the tank and get it delivered and installed. “Ideally, that will happen before the roads are impassable,” Clough says.
To contribute to Basil’s new home visit https://www.gofundme.com/basils-fund. For more information about the Southern Vermont Natural History Museum visit www.vermontmuseum.org, or call (802) 464-0048.