Most Frequently Dumped Turtle is Red Eared Slider
American Tortoise Rescue (ATR) is “drowning” in requests to rehome abandoned water turtles, most commonly red eared slider turtles. ATR is asking pond owners in all 50 states who would like to have turtles to step forward and offer their ponds as forever homes for these gentle creatures.
Red eared sliders, easily identifiable because of the red stripe next to their eyes, are the most common turtles given up for adoption. While they are non-native in certain states like California and Oregon, they enter the adoption system from impulse buys at pet stores, foreclosed real estate, animal shelters, the Asian live food markets, mercadoes and reptile shows. Some are illegally given as prizes at carnivals. The popularity of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles caused thousands of kids to want turtles, but sadly the children quickly lose interest when the new pets don’t fly or jump through the air, so many suffer neglect or abandonment.
Susan Tellem, who founded the nonprofit 27 years ago with her husband Marshall Thompson, says the best situation for sliders is a private pond, real or artificial. Turtles can live comfortably with koi and eat the same food. Some people use plastic horse troughs or baby swimming pools, but the sides have to be high enough so that the turtles cannot escape, and they need to be protected from predators like raccoons with electric fencing or some other barrier.
Because turtles can live 25 years or more, adoption is a true commitment. Tellem says, “Out rescue sliders have names and are very personable. It’s wonderful to see them basking in the summer sun.” During the winter, turtles hibernate under water for four or five months even under iced over ponds, so no feeding is necessary making them easy to care for. We recommend homes without small children and dogs. Children forget to wash their hands, and turtles can carry salmonella.
Schools are an absolute no for this reason. Tellem says that dogs think turtles are chew toys, sometimes leading to painful and debilitating injuries or even death of the turtles.
“People still get tiny green turtles in a plastic carrying case with an artificial palm tree at street fairs, pet stores and as prizes at events,” said Tellem “Unfortunately, no one tells the potential owner that these turtles grow to be anywhere from six to 12 inches long and live long lives, instead of staying that cute little quarter size.” She estimates that about 95 percent die within a year because buyers are not given proper care instructions by sellers.
Since 1974, its been illegal to sell turtles of any kind anywhere in the U.S. if they are under four inches long, a law that has been largely ignored. The law was enacted to prevent children from putting tiny turtles in their mouths and exposing themselves to salmonella, which many of the turtles carry. Further, in some places like Los Angeles, buyers are also fined for purchasing the illegal turtles. They are sold illegally in places like Santee Street in downtown Los Angeles, but ATR along with other groups have been working hard to have sellers arrested. In addition, ATR has worked for more than 18 years to ban the importation of red eared sliders into the Asian live food markets because they often end up being purchased by good hearted people trying to “save” them. The California Fish & Wildlife Commission has failed consistently to enact a ban which resulted in the death of many California native pond turtles. This may change at an upcoming Commission meeting in late April 2017.
To offer your private pond as a new home or to rehome your own turtle, we suggest posting a flyer at your veterinarian with a photo and details, as well as at local pet stores. Do not advertise your pet on Craig’s List.
American Tortoise Rescue is a nonprofit founded in 1990 for the protection of all species of turtles and tortoises. We have rescued and rehomed more than 4,000 since our inception. Foundlings that cannot be adopted because of ill health remain in the care of ATR for the remainder of their lives. ATR acts as a clearinghouse for information about turtle care. We work to abolish “live market” slaughter of turtles in the US, the sale of reptiles on sites like Craig’s List and the cruel importation and exploitation of a variety of species. Celebrate World Turtle Day® every year on May 23rd!
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