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FARMINGTON — With a number of man-made lakes and areas of lush vegetation, Tommy Bolack's B-Square Ranch became the first site in the region last month to report a sighting of a snapping turtle.

An official with the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish said today it is the only reported sighting of the freshwater turtle on the San Juan River.

"If I'd known it was so usual for the whole river, I would have hung onto it for a few days," Bolack said in an interview Wednesday.

The turtle was found by Dave Whitaker, the ranch's trapper, in mid-May after its head was caught in a 12-inch predator trap near a body of water at the 12,000-acre ranch that occupies the river's north and south banks.

"I thought, 'That is a big turtle.' For this area, it's pretty unusual," Whitaker said today.

Whitaker transported the turtle to the ranch's Museum of Fish and Wildlife, where he and Bolack examined it.

The shell was approximately 16 inches wide, and its long tail had scales that reminded Whitaker of a dinosaur.

Bolack said it was the largest turtle he has ever seen on his property, which has a large population of painted turtles.

"It was alive and mad. …I never heard a turtle hiss like that," Bolack said.

He added the reptile was "neatly caught" and unharmed by the trap. It was released the same day in the area where it was found.

Jim Stuart is the nongame mammals specialist at the state game and fish department in Santa Fe.

Bolack reported the turtle sighting to Stuart on May 11.

Based on photographs Bolack submitted, the turtle appeared to be an adult male, Stuart said today. In New Mexico, snapping turtles are native to the Pecos, Canadian and Dry Cimarron rivers, he said. They are also found along the Rio Grande, but it has not been determined if it is a native species or was introduced to the area, he added.

As for the turtle discovered at B-Square Ranch, it could have been transported, then released, Stuart said.

"They're not that popular as a pet," he said, adding the sighting was added to department records for species found in the state.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636.

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