May 11 (UPI) -- Wildlife officials in Tennessee are working to determine how a rare turtle turned up nearly 100 miles away from its natural habitat.
The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency received photos of what was believed to be a dead alligator snapping turtle in Center Hill Lake after reports of multiple sightings in the area.
Putnam County wildlife officer, Mike Beaty, inspected the 48-inch body and sought to determine how the turtle found itself about 120 miles east of the Tennessee River, where the rare species is most often found.
"Alligator snapping turtles are found primarily west of the Tennessee River in West Tennessee, with a few occurrences that stretch along the Cumberland River system. Populations declined because of over-harvesting for consumption prior to protection," the TWRA said. "The most recent sighting outside its current range occurred in Davidson County in 2016."
The turtle, which was believed to be male, was largely decayed and TWRA staff questioned whether the species survived harvesting and dam construction in the Cumberland River system or was illegally moved from somewhere else.
"We don't know whether this animal was moved [to Center Hill Lake]," TWRA spokeswoman Mime Barnes told the Times Free Press. "We're hoping some of the genetic testing reveals the waterway of origin, but at this point, we don't know."
Genetic testing will be performed on the specimen in hopes of revealing what waterway the turtle originated in, but in the meantime the department enjoys unraveling the mystery.
"We love the mystery of it. You want to invigorate scientists?" Barnes said. "We love wildlife and we want to see wildlife thrive, so we were pretty excited about finding this turtle even though it was dead."