We started our turtle rescue in 1990 with two Russian tortoises named Peggy Sue. They were followed in short order by a Cooter named Fluffy, and an Eastern box turtle named Bunkle. The list kept growing until we ended up rescuing and/or rehoming close to 4,000 turtles and tortoises in the U.S. and other countries. When we started, there were no national turtle and tortoise rescues, so we thought why not? In 1996, we received nonprofit status and moved to the current location in Malibu in 1997.
Twenty eight years later, we still have Fluffy in our pond, and Bunkle still roams the sanctuary as our mascot. Peggy Sue went to greener pastures, but more than 100 other permanent residents roam our land and swim in the pond. We have never taken a salary or used funds for anything other than the care and feeding of our residents and those waiting for rehoming.
Now, happily, there are rescues in every state and many foreign countries. Based on our success with World Turtle Day® launched in 2000, and now celebrated globally, as well as the exploding population of sulcatas, red eared sliders and other turtles and tortoises, we feel it is important to switch gears. We must focus on what other rescues may not have the time or expertise to do – education, media outreach, social media and spearheading the celebration of these wonderful animals through our annual World Turtle Day outreach. I’m a public relations pro, and Marshall is a video producer. Together, we can make a lot of noise. We change hearts and minds through visuals and media coverage. An example of the work we focused on is this article about the plight of sulcatas featured on Buzzfeed.com which has 500 million global visitors each month to its site, a huge audience. We first predicted an onslaught of sulcatas in a press release that we issued in October 1998, almost 20 years ago. Let’s not forget the live food markets around the country that sell turtles for food to be slaughtered cruelly once they reach the purchaser’s home. After trying to stop this cruel practice for 19 years, it seems to be heating up again, and we’ll be ready. Almost every day we get an email with complaints about pet stores selling baby turtles illegally. Trying to get action from law enforcement and politicians takes a lot of work, and our calls often fall on deaf ears. It’s tedious, but important. We’re planning to help with a bust in Los Angeles in the next few weeks.
World Turtle Day was wildly successful this year, and we plan even bigger doings for 2017. Take a look at our case study here https://youtu.be/jwvgpfe13G0. Since American Tortoise Rescue is the go to website for many people looking for information, we are finally working on a new improved mobile website. We launched the existing one in 1996, and it needs a major makeover! Our sanctuary doors will always be open to turtles that are unadoptable, deformed or have special needs. We just took in a box turtle who lived in a tank for 30 years – she just has her first day outside - and an old Gulf Coast turtle who spent many years in loving hands, but her owner is too old to care for her now. With my nursing background, I cannot turn a sad case away. We forward email questions about rehoming and adoption to our colleagues here in the U.S. and all over the globe. Rescues are launching every day, thank goodness, so the turtle population will be in good hands.
We still ask for your help in this new effort, as it will take a lot of time and money to reach our goals. And we set up the Goofy Veterinary Fund for our own turtle hospital needs, as well as individuals with sick turtles and tortoises who cannot afford expensive exotic care. A recent example is a traumatic dog bite that exposed a sulcata’s heart. We helped the owner with a donation to cover part of the $3,000 vet bill.
Rescue is our passion, but there is much work to be done in the field of education. Many turtles and tortoises are dying or are deformed because of lack of proper information about their care. Misinformation is rampant on the Internet. We can begin to fix that. You will continue to hear from us through our regular newsletter and special mailings so you can follow our progress. Thank you for always being here for us. Please join us in moving forward with this new exciting chapter at American Tortoise Rescue.
Love, Susan Tellem and Marshall Thompson
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