Despite looking like he belongs in Jurassic World, a male alligator snapping turtle in the US state of Texas found himself in a rather modern predicament this week: he got stuck in a metal water pipe.

According to the Houston SPCA, one of the agencies that helped coordinate the turtle's rescue, it appears the 24-kilogram (53 lbs) reptile tried to swim through the water pipe when things started to go wrong.

"The pipe was dented at the opening, preventing the turtle from passing through," reports ABC 13 Eyewitness News. "He struggled to keep his head up as water rushed over his body."

Fortunately for the turtle, a local resident came across the distressed animal and called the Houston SPCA to report the incident. Wildlife rescue workers and local firefighters were able to arrive in time to help the turtle before he drowned, although it took the "Jaws of Life" to bend the pipe enough to allow a veterinarian to retrieve him. Once freed, it became clear this wasn't the only alligator snapping turtle to try and make the fit, and sadly, the others were not as lucky – after his removal from the pipe, several dead turtles followed.

The incident is far from the first time that these "dinosaurs of the turtle world" have had a life-threatening encounter with humans and their contraptions. River dredging and habitat destruction caused by development projects have taken their toll on populations. The turtles – not to be confused with the common snapping turtle, Chelydra serpentina – have also traditionally been hunted for food, particularly in the southern regions of their range. In the 1960s and 1970s, they were extensively commercially hunted.

In addition to their infamously powerful bite, the animals are known for their longevity: they can live for over 70 years in captivity. But the reptiles also take a long time to reach sexual maturity, and females produce just one clutch of eggs a year, making it hard for populations to regenerate.

The effects of habitat destruction and overharvesting are being felt. Once found throughout the south-eastern and mid-western United States, the turtles have seen their populations decrease drastically in recent decades. According to the Arizona-based non-profit Center for Biological Diversity, their numbers are down by as much as 95% in some parts of their range. What's more, scientists discovered back in 2014 that the alligator snapping turtle is not just one species, but three – each more at risk than we previously thought.

Elise Pautler, an attorney for the Center, says that her organisation has been pressuring the US Department of Fish and Wildlife to add the turtles to either the endangered or threatened species list since 2012.

"If you're petitioning to protect a species, time is of the essence," Pautler said in an interview with the Alabama Media Group, explaining the reasoning behind the request. "If you don't get that species protection, it could just languish."

Meanwhile, despite the continuing challenges of human encroachment, at least one of the primordial-looking turtles has a potentially long life ahead of him, thanks to the help of his human rescuers. The Houston SPCA will make sure the previously pipe-bound turtle recovers properly before releasing him into the wild once again – and we hope there are no other hazards in his future.


Top header image: Joachim S. Müller, Flickr