Ten Things to Do for Turtles

by Barbara Dillard
Dallas Fort Worth Turtle & Tortoise Club

Spring and early summer is a time of turtle nesting and babies. You can see turtles walking on the road or turtle hatchlings around local ponds and creeks. However cute they look and no matter how much your child wants to pick them up and take them home it’s not a good idea.

Turtles—sea, freshwater, or terrestrial—are the favorite animals of many people. These attractive creatures continue to beat incredible odds to survive in today’s world of increasing pet and food trade, pollution and shrinking habitat. Here are some suggestions on how you can help those beautiful and important little creatures, which have been part of our ecosystem for a long, long time:

1. Give Turtles A Brake. First, be safe and don’t have an accident; then if possible avoid hitting the turtle. If you can safely stop and you want to do so, move the turtle off the road in the direction in which it was going. If the turtle is a large one, or a snapping turtle, use a stick to nudge him gently across the road without getting too close. Do not pick up a turtle by its tail, as it can cause dislocation of the turtle’s spine.

2. Protect Turtle Habitat. Support your local turtle conservation programs. Report any abuse, poaching (of sea turtles, her eggs or hatchlings for example), or any other of your concerns to a local legal agency like Texas Parks & Wildlife Department. These activities are violations of U.S. state and federal laws.

3. Don’t Take Turtles Out Of The Wild. A game warden will fine you if you get caught. Turtles take up to 10 years before reaching sexual maturity to reproduce. Taking a turtle out of the wild will cause great harm to the future population of turtles. When the population is thinned beyond a certain point, adults are unlikely to find each other for mating. Many turtle species lays relatively few eggs and the hatchlings are very vulnerable during their first years to predation. This means not enough turtles can be produced for the population to survive and the population becomes reproductively dead.

4. Enjoy Turtles In The Wild. Never keep wild turtles as pets or buy them from a pet store. The trade in reptiles as pets is responsible for tremendous animal suffering and serious damage to turtle populations. Learn to enjoy turtles by observing them in their natural habitat, where they belong. If turtles live in your yard, why not keep them happy by building a pond and by landscaping with plants that provide protection and food? Edible plants for turtles include tropical hibiscus, dandelion, geraniums, and Chinese lantern. (Make sure that your plants are free of pesticide and herbicide residue.) Piles of leaves, vines, and downed trees make perfect turtle hiding places.

5. Don't Release Captive Turtles Into The Wild. Think twice before buying a turtle as a pet. Turtles can live 40, 60 and even 100 years. They can grow large and need lots of space to roam and/or swim. This is a major reason for captive turtles being released into the wild by their owners. Turtles kept in captivity may not recognize natural foods and may not be able to survive in the wild. A more serious problem can develop by releasing a pet native turtle into what seems like a potentially good habitat. Healthy turtles can introduce foreign microorganisms which can wipe out the wild populations in the area that are not immune to the new organisms. For help, contact your local Turtle Club, Herpetological Society, Wildlife Rehabilitator or your local animal shelter.

6. Get Turtles Out Of U.S. Live Animal Markets. Turtles are among the most popular offerings at live animal markets in the United States. They suffer terrible abuse in filthy, neglectful conditions, and are slaughtered by being cut apart while conscious. The vast majority of market turtles are taken from the wild, contributing to declining U.S. turtle populations. Tell state wildlife agencies that you’re concerned about the increasing collection of wild turtles to supply animal markets in the United States and abroad (particularly Asia).

7. Say NO To Turtle Racing. Turtle racing is an event that is often held for the entertainment of young children at fairs, picnics, rodeos and socials across the U.S. usually without knowing what harm they are doing to the local turtle population as well as to the individual turtles. Turtles are found and collected in the wild and the overwhelming majority is picked up off of the roads. These “collectors” often exceed their legal limit of turtles. Turtles are piled up in five gallon buckets or cardboard boxes for a time ranging from several days to several weeks without food or water. As a result the turtles are under enormous amount of stress and sometimes covered with urine and feces which could spread disease among the turtles.

8. Don’t Mess With Texas. Pollution makes its way into bodies of water and wild areas, poisoning turtles and destroying their habitats. Always properly dispose of any hazardous materials such as paint or oil. Garbage, such as plastic bags, kills many pond turtles and sea turtles that either ingest it or become entangled in it. Reduce the amount of garbage you produce, recycle, and dispose of it properly.

9. Spread The Word. Educate others about the importance of protecting turtles from commercial exploitation and abuse in your community and throughout the world. Be a voice for turtles.

10. Join And/Or Support Turtle Conservation And Educational Organizations. You can find and join local turtle & tortoise clubs/societies like the DFW Turtle & Tortoise Club (www.dfwttc.org) [and the Gulf Coast Turtle & Tortoise Society] so you can connect with others with great knowledge about chelonians and help with local efforts to protect turtles. Many other organizations like TSA - Turtle Survival Alliance (www.turtlesurvival.org) and World Chelonian Trust (www.chelonia.org) have great resources and extensive information about captive care and conservational issues.

References:
1. Box Turtle Partnership of Texas [BTPT] articles by Michael Smith
2. Humane Society of the United States
3. Turtle Racing in U.S.A. by Alex Heeb

Barbara Dillard is founder of DFW Turtle & Tortoise Club, Member of DFW Herpetological Society, Member of World Chelonian Trust, and partner of BTPT.