A year of rehab and recovery for Nobomvu
Genevieve Bergemann
Gen is the Medical Analyst of the Foundation's sea turtle rehabilitation team, diving deep into the veterinary and biometric data of our turtle patients, to optimise treatments and enable speedy turtle recoveries!

Red is a bold, captivating hue, and Nobomvu, with her red-tinged carapace, has completely embodied these qualities over the past year.

And so, in honoring her captivating spirit and complex journey, below is an outline of her year in residence at the Two Oceans Aquarium.

On 14 July 2021, a loggerhead turtle entangled in ghost-netting was in dire need of intervention and was rescued on the beach in Gansbaai.

Through the Turtle Rescue Network, this stranded and cold-stunned adult sea turtle arrived at the Two Oceans Aquarium & was received by the turtle rehab team.

This turtle was surprisingly strong during admittance into hospital; lifting her head, resisting restraint & also presented with no external injuries needing immediate intervention.

“Nobomvu” was the name chosen for this red-tinged, fiery sea turtle.

With her diagnostic tests clear, completion of arrival medication & a picky, but consistent appetite for pilchard, Nobomvu was moved to a larger porta-pool three weeks after arrival.

Figure 1: Nobomvu on admission. Image showing signs of previous injuries, scabbing seen on right elbow joint & dorsal neck area.

In October, three months after arrival, a change of behavior was noted by the turtle rehab team; Nobomvu’s appetite had decreased, and she was not using her front right flipper. Following this noted change, radiographs of both flippers were taken and a joint-tap (aspiration) was done.

The microbial culture confirmed the diagnosis of osteomyelitis (infection of the bone) in her front right flipper.

Figure 2: Dorsoventral radiographic view of right elbow joint showing lysis of the distal aspect of humerus and proximal aspects of radius and ulna. 

 The immediate treatment plan going forward was to move her to a smaller porta-pool (to encourage rest) and begin pain medication and antibiotics, with the goal of eliminating infection, decreasing inflammation, pain and increasing her appetite.

In early January, as Nobomvu brightened once again, there was also significant reduction in the swelling of her elbow joint & noted usage of the front right flipper. For enrichment & increase in space, she was moved into the I&J Oceans Exhibit.

In the month of March, repeat radiographs indicated that the osteolytic lesions had not progressed, however repeat microbial culture indicated infection was still present.

After further diagnostic tests and imaging, the veterinary team decided that surgery was required & that Nobomvu was strong enough to undergo sedation. Consequently, a successful bone debridement surgery was performed on 12 April at the Cape Exotic Animal Hospital (CEAH). Our veterinarians are experts in their field and always willing to go above and beyond to seek specialist assistance to aid our turtle patients.

Figure 3: Image showing CT scan of sequestrum in right elbow joint

Figure 4: Nobomvu with Dr Ilse & Dr Bernice post-surgery

Figure 5: The calcareous tissue removed from the shoulder that was preventing the medication from working

Nobomvu remained in a smaller porta-pool for the months post-surgery so that the rehabilitation team could continually monitor her suture wound & as best as possible prevent secondary contamination.

Around mid-May, abnormal skin sloughing was noted on Nobomvu. Bloodwork was done and skin samples were collected for culture by the Lancet Laboratories team during two visits with Nobomvu. 

We are very grateful for this support from Lancet Laboratories, as their pathology sampling, testing and analysis assisting us with decisions for Nobomvu’s continued rehabilitation care whilst she was in this quite critical condition.

Figure 6: Lancet Labs collected tissue and blood samples from Nobomvu for analysis.

The culture results indicated the presence of fungal and bacterial species. Following receiving these post-culture results, we felt a relief in knowing we would be able to start Nobomvu on a more targeted antibiotic and antifungal treatment

Not only did Nobomvu’s concoction of daily pills grow (100 per week!), but the skin sloughing also required intervention; physically wiping down Nobomvu and dry-docking for an hour daily. Likely due to the stress of handling, in combination with a lowered immunity, Nobomvu did not eat for the latter two weeks in June.

Subsequently, a decision was made to discontinue the wipe-downs.

Figure 7: Nobomvu’s suture line present on right elbow, as well as sloughing over bill and face

Figure 8: Nobomvu’s scute loss was recorded photographically. Severity of scute loss on plastron

Figure 9: Nobomvu’s pallor present. Significant complexion change.

The gut-feel decision made, felt correct, as not long after wipe-downs stopped, Nobomvu started eating again- of course her favourite diet of pilchards!

In early July, Nobomvu went for a repeat CT scan with “Turtle Dad”, Dr Peter Berndt at Winelands Radiology. Being able to image this infection with such technology & expertise has certainly had a positive impact on Nobomvu’s rehabilitation. No active infection is present in the elbow joint & visible new bone growth is taking place!

Figure 10: Dr Peter Berndt with Nobomvu, in preparation for a CT scan

Through the past year, the veterinary & turtle rehab team have had to learn how to work with Nobomvu’s bold, fiery red personality. There have been periods of intense ‘hands-on’ approach; daily wipe-downs, dry-docking, every other day tube-feeding & injections. And then there have been periods where we’ve had to be less aggressive in our approach; allowing her body to work with the medication over time, allowing much sunlight, persistently offering her food & providing lots of back scratches.

Going forward, for the next few months, we will focus on increasing Nobomvu’s appetite and closely observe her behaviour as we give her the best healing environment.

Rehabilitation for oesteomyelitis in sea turtles takes time & Nobomvu’s response and progress so far is remarkable!

Nobomvu, you are a bold, captivating turtle & your recovery has only added truth to your qualities. We look forward being beside you, on your journey to health & your brightest red, yet to come!

On behalf of Nobomvu and the turtle team, we would like to thank the Cape Exotic Animal Hospital, Dr Peter Berndt, and Lancet Labs for their invaluable contributions and expertise, which have allowed us to give Nobomvu the very best rehabilitation and care possible!


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