Reptiles can make children and adults very ill.
In September, school bells start ringing all over the United States. And so do our phones. Teachers are calling American Tortoise Rescue asking if they can have turtles or tortoises for their classrooms, most commonly red eared sliders, a water turtle, or a Russian tortoise, a land tortoise (pictured).
Our answer is always the same. Absolutely not.
Why? Because having one in your classroom or the schoolyard can be fatal to both your child or the turtle or tortoise for several reasons.
1. Reptiles of all kinds can carry a disease called Salmonella. Salmonella is a bacterial infection that generally infects the intestinal tract and occasionally the blood stream. Symptoms include mild to severe diarrhea, fever and occasionally vomiting. While healthy adults may show no symptoms of Salmonella even if they are infected, children under five, pregnant women and the elderly are at risk of serious illness or even death from Salmonella infection. This is immediate red flag to nursery school and grade school teachers considering turtles or other reptiles for their classrooms. An exotic pet veterinarian told us that a teacher is a sitting duck for a lawsuit should any of the children in the classroom get infected. “Teachers know the risks, so if a parent were to sue for a million dollars (much more if the child dies), the parent will win.” It is not worth the risk.
2. Turtles and tortoises are quiet wild animals that prefer not to be in the company of humans, especially lively young children who shriek, over-handle and chase animals. Even when children are closely supervised, accidents can and do happen. Turtles get dropped, stressed out or die.
3. A turtle or tortoise or any wild animal confined to a tank is living a miserable existence – it’s a death chamber. It’s like you or me living in a bathtub for the rest of our lives. Tanks are for fish.
These creatures are used to living outside where they can get the sun and food they are used to.
Most people have little factual knowledge about turtles and tortoises even with the Internet – in fact the Internet has so much incorrect information it is often confusing to someone who is trying to do a good job caring for these animals.
What is very disturbing to us is that many schools already have turtles and tortoises as classroom "pets." Turtle are wild animals, not pets. Even after we educate principals and teachers about the risks to the children and the animals, turtles remain in close contact with the children. When there have been cruelty complaints filed with us about the poor housing and living conditions of turtles and tortoises in schools, educators still have refused to relinquish the poor animals…cases in point - several well-known preschools schools and one children’s workshop in Southern California.
So please, parents, persuade your teachers to relinquish the turtles and tortoises to a responsible turtle rescue. Don't let them expose your children to a serious illness. It can be a matter of life and death.
American Tortoise Rescue is a nonprofit founded in 1990 for the protection of all species of turtles and tortoises. We have rescued 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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