Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

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Answers sought in turtle slaying

by Steve Targo

June 20, 2013

A turtle died after it was beaten with a golf club, but people still want to know who did it.

The Walworth County Sheriff's Department and the DNR are still investigating the beating. Authorities believe someone used a golf club to beat a female snapping turtle June 10 at Delbrook Golf Course.

With a fractured skull and holes in its shell, the turtle was taken to Fellow Mortals Wildlife Hospital, town of Geneva. On June 11, the turtle was transferred to Pineview Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, Fremont.

The next day, the turtle died. According to a Wisconsin State Journal article, Pineview Director Jeannie Lord said the injuries were too extensive for the turtle — estimated to be between 10 and 13 years old.

So far, two groups have put up a total of $6,000 in reward money to help find the culprit. The People For the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, is offering $5,000. That's in addition to the $1,000 offered by Global Conservation Group of Watertown for information leading up to an arrest and conviction.

Many are calling for action.

The most fervent reactions to the fatal turtle beating can be read online, where people have posted expressions of anger and grief.

"I am very happy to see the moral outrage being expressed in the form of support in finding and prosecuting the perpetrator of this cruel abuse," said Yvonne Wallace Blane, of Fellow Mortals Wildlife Hospital, town of Geneva, in an email Friday.

On June 10, between 7:30 and 9:30 a.m., the turtle was found beaten at Delbrook Golf Course.

State Department of Natural Resources Conservation Warden Juan Gomez called Wallace Blane and took the turtle to Fellow Mortals.

It is widely believed the turtle was laying its eggs in a sand trap on the golf course.

"This turtle is perhaps the most appropriate symbol of innocent suffering because it is often more difficult for people to empathize with a reptile than with a wild mammal or bird," Wallace Blane said.

But not everyone sympathizes with mammals or birds, either.

She said the same day a DNR warden brought the turtle to Fellow Mortals, a beaten female mallard duck was admitted from a park in Burlington.

It "had lost an eye and had her skull fractured as a result of rocks being thrown deliberately at her," Wallace Blane said. "Another duck is still in that location, unable to walk after having its leg broken."

On the Facebook pages of Fellow Mortals and Delbrook, people posted questions about the ongoing investigation and expressed their sadness, anger and disbelief.

On the Regional News website, some are questioning why people are putting up so much reward money.

Others have asked how the injuries indicate a deliberate beating was inflicted.

There has been speculation that a lawn mower may have caused the injuries, or even that whoever hit the turtle did so in self-defense.

But Wallace Blane didn't think so.

"I have personally seen close to 40,000 wild animals in my career and know intentional injury when I see it," she said.

"It is very different from injury caused by collision with a vehicle, power line, window or hunting injury."

Has anything good come out of this incident so far?

"The important lesson here is that every life has value, regardless of whether we consider it beautiful or useless to us," she said.

A gentleman's sport?

Meanwhile, it would appear not only Delbrook is taking heat for the incident.

Some are calling golf courses and golfing in general into account.

Some have also posted comments on Delbrook's Facebook page asking for the club to shut down for a few days to send a message that this behavior won't be tolerated.

Dan Piecha, general manager of Delbrook, said Friday in a phone interview that it's hard to tell if the press surrounding the incident has affected business.

He said the last few days brought nice weather to the area, so it appears business has been "typical" and people are still playing golf at Delbrook.

The club didn't maintain silence about the incident.

On June 11, Peicha posted a six-point statement on the Delbrook page.

He stated the club provided the names of every golfer who played that morning to the sheriff's department and the DNR, and if anyone believes Delbrook condones this type of behavior, "you are very misguided."

Not all the responses to Piecha's statement were anti-Delbrook.

Some praised the club for cooperating with authorities.

However, others are urging the club to release the names of the golfers who played at the time of the incident.

Piecha said he wouldn't comment on any individual comments posted on Facebook.

When asked if he was surprised by the types and number of comments on the Facebook page, he said the level of passion was "unexpected."

He also said he is worried people will get the wrong impression about golf.

"I think that, for all the things that golf courses do, with donating to charities and things like that, hopefully people won't get the impression this is common with people in our sport," Piecha said.

He said he's not aware of this type of incident ever happening before at Delbrook.

"This is not indicative of our golfers here, or of golfers anywhere," Piecha said. "This is an anomaly."

In fact, some Delbrook golfers have donated money toward the reward, he said, and the club is taking up its own collection.

"All the money that we are collecting, that our golfers are voluntarily donating, we will collect and donate to that reward fund," Piecha said.

There is one bit of confusion, however.

In his June 11 statement, Piecha stated the incident was caused by the actions of one individual, "Not a group of golfers or all golfers. One person."

When asked why he stated that, Piecha said he "can't be 100 percent certain" it was just one person.

"I was only sending single golfers out to that part of the golf course at the time this occurred," he said. "That's just my opinion."

So how is it that one person could presumably beat a turtle with a golf club, midmorning, on a course inhabited by other golfers?

"This incident took place in one of the furthest places from the clubhouse," Piecha said.

He said there are four holes located near Interstate 43 which are isolated.

The club features 27 holes for public golf. These four are also near a creek, Piecha said.

"To get to these four holes where this happened, we have to cross a cart bridge," he said.

Will this change the way golf is played at Delbrook?

"Of course, with something like this, you have to address issues," Piecha said. "The important thing, I think, that people need to understand (is) this is an isolated incident."