May 23, 2007

World Turtle Day

May 23 is World Turtle Day.

World Turtle Day was established in 2000 by American Tortoise Rescue, as a day to appreciate turtles and tortoises all over the globe. It is also observed by the Humane Society of the United States, who carries out surveys and observations to help determine the condition of turtles throughout the world.

Here are some things you can do to help turtles:

  • Support pro-turtle legislation such as laws establishing fair and reasonable quotas on turtle exports, chemical pollution, and conditions of live animal markets in the U.S.
  • Report violations of existing laws.
  • Don't litter. Plastic bags and balloons, for example, can strangle or suffocate a turtle, or cause blockage to its digestive tract.
  • Don't buy turtles. Small turtles (less than 4 inches across) have been illegal to export or sell since 1975, but some retailers attempt to get around it by giving them away "free" with purchase of a tank, or other supplies. Turtles being captured for sale are often thrown into a wheelbarrow or bag carelessly, on top of one another, and many are hurt in the process. Buying turtles encourages the turtle trade.
  • In addition, turtles do not make good pets. Bear in mind that in the wild, turtles do not constantly come into contact with their own feces, or with uneaten and spoiled food (as they do in a tank). Absence of natural light can cause deformities in their shells. Qualified veterinarian care for turtles is hard to come by. And, most importantly for your family, turtles are a carrier of salmonella (which doesn't harm them, but can be deadly for your family, especially children, the elderly, and those with compromised immune systems).
  • Turtles have a long life lifespan. Some species do not reach sexual maturity for 10 years. Some species lay only a few eggs (or even 1) a year. Taking a turtle out of the breeding pool endangers the entire species. In addition, please remember that having a long lifespan means that that turtle could be around a long, long time -- long after you (or your child) tires of it.
  • If you do have a turtle, and you want to get rid of it, don't just release it to the wild. Released turtles are vulnerable to dogs, predators, traffic, and starvation.
  • Don't disturb turtles in the wild. If you live near the ocean, be wary of disturbing turtle breeding grounds by visiting them at night, or by keeping the beach lighted. Taking a wild turtle home and attempting to keep him in your yard is a bad idea, too. It may be hurt by neighborhood dogs or children, or it may get injured in attempting to return to its home.
  • If you meet a turtle in the road.... him across!

    That is, assuming you can do it safely. Traffic is obviously extremely dangerous to turtles, so if you are able to safely stop your car and help it across, do so. Be sure to scrub your hands, (and anything you've touched) thoroughly afterwards.

And now, just in case you've always wondered about the differnece between turtles, tortoises, and terrapins:

In North America, tortoises live on land, turtles live in water, and terrapins live in brackish water. (There are exceptions, such as the land-living box turtle.) In Europe, the definitions are reversed: turtles live on land, and tortoises in the sea.

Photo: Sea Turtle, Public Domain

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