ST. LOUIS – A famous Missouri turtle recently had surgery at the St. Louis Zoo to fix a life-threatening condition.
Meet Peanut. She’s named after the unique figure-eight shape of her shell. Peanut began attracting attention across Missouri and even gained national and worldwide fame as an anti-littering mascot in the 1990s.
Peanut is about 36 years old. When Peanut was young, she wandered into a plastic six-pack ring and it got stuck around her shell. The ring constricted her shell as she grew, so it grew into the unusual figure-eight shape
When Peanut was about 9 years old, someone found her and brought her to the St. Louis Zoo, where the ring was removed. She then began traveling the state with the Missouri Department of Conservation to show people the damage littering can do to wildlife.
“It’s kind of a good way to let people know to pack out your trash. Don’t leave anything behind. Not just plastic rings but plastic bags and cigarette butts, and all that kind of trash can harm wildlife. So she’s just a good way to show people what it can do. Physically show that,” said Tamie Yegge, manager at Powder Valley Conservation Nature Center.
Peanut has now retired at the Powder Valley Conservation Nature Center. But recently, her caregivers noticed something was wrong.
“Our caregivers noticed that she was kind of slowing down in her behavior. She wasn’t eating well. Usually she’s pretty aggressive and hungry when we try to feed her and she just was getting kind of lethargic,” Yegge said.
They took her in to the St. Louis Zoo and after some tests, figured out the issue.
“An ultrasound showed that she had follicles that have not developed into eggs on her ovaries,” Yegge said. “We set her up to try to let her lay those eggs and we gave her a month and nothing happened. So we went back and another ultrasound showed that nothing had changed. So they decided to do surgery which essentially saved her life.”
The procedure was performed by the zoo’s assistant director of animal health, Dr. Chris Hanley, and veterinary resident Dr. Kari Musgrave.
The procedure was risky, especially at Peanut’s age. About 10 percent of her body mass was removed. One of her lungs was at about half capacity and her digestive system was crowded which prevented her from eating properly. The extra weight and lack of appetite were also dangerously stressing her other organs. But the surgery was a success.
Dr. Hanley speculated that Peanut’s misshapen shell may have contributed to the undeveloped follicles not being able to pass properly.
Dr. Hanley and his team performed the surgery at the Saint Louis Zoo’s hospital on May 4 where he successfully removed the follicle-filled ovaries using an endoscope to assist with the operation. The endoscope enabled the surgical team to enter through one small incision without having to cut into her shell.
After an overnight stay at the Zoo, Peanut returned to her home at Powder Valley the next day.
“When she came back here she was like super turtle again,” said Yegge.
The last of her stitches will be taken out in just a few weeks.
Peanut has received lots of love from children and even some adults across the bistate region.
“Quite a few get well cards and people went through quite a bit of effort to draw pictures and write notes. So it was pretty fun to open those and read them and see how many people care about her and understand her story and what she stands for,” Yegge said.
If you want to wish Peanut well, you’ll have to wait a while longer to visit Peanut in person. The trails at Powder Valley are open, but the inside exhibits remain closed for now due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Those wishing to send Peanut “get well” cards and wishes are encouraged to mail them to:
Powder Valley Conservation Nature Center
11715 Cragwold Road
Kirkwood, MO 63122