LAKE PALESTINE, Texas (KETK) – Texas game wardens were called on Wednesday after a protected alligator snapping turtle was found dead in Lake Palestine. The turtle was found caught in an illegal trotline.

Dan Sturdivant, who found the turtle, said that he originally thought it was a tree log floating in the water. A few days later, he realized it was instead an alligator snapping turtle which has been estimated by officials to potentially be older than the lake itself.

“It’s very disappointing to have him live so long and die that way,” Sturdivant said. “It was interesting to see that creature, knowing that he had been here probably longer than I have.”

Alligator snapping turtles cannot stay under water for more than 50 minutes before having to return to the surface for air. Once the turtle was caught in the trotline, it subsequently drowned.

“Unfortunately they are drawn to either the bait or the fish caught on the trotline,” Caldwell Zoo Reptile Supervisor William Garvin said. “They ingest the hook, and then if they are unable to surface, they will drown in the water.”

It is illegal to leave a trotline unattended in the water without contact information on the line, which is what happened in the case of this alligator snapping turtle.

The Caldwell Zoo currently houses two adult alligator snapping turtles, and Garvin said he wants to educate East Texans about this animal and its part in the ecosystem in hopes of saving more.

“In Texas, they are a threatened species,” Garvin said. “They are getting some protection, but they get some undeserving persecution from a lot of people unfortunately.”

The Texas Game Warden issued the following statement after the turtle was found:

“Trotlines and jugs/noddles need to be marked according to TPWD law. When they go unattended or unchecked, they are harmful for wildlife for months, even years, before they deteriorate.”