DEEP: DEP Reminds Residents It Is Illegal to Release Pet Turtles into the Wild

March 11, 2011
 
DEP Reminds Residents It Is Illegal to Release Pet Turtles into the Wild
2011 Is the Year of the Turtle

The Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), as part of its Year of the Turtle awareness campaign with Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (PARC), reminds citizens that it is illegal to release pet turtles into the wild. "Most turtles sold in pet stores are not native to Connecticut," cautioned Rick Jacobson, Director of the DEP Wildlife Division. "Releasing even one could jeopardize the Stateís wild turtles."

Non-native species, like the red-eared slider, which have been released into Connecticut, can become nuisances. They compete with native species for habitat, food resources, and nest sites. For example, red-eared sliders were widely purchased from pet stores throughout the state, especially during the 1960s and 1970s. Once the owners no longer desired these turtles as pets, they released them into ponds, wetlands, or streams. Presently, red-eared sliders have established populations in some areas of Connecticut and may be competing with native turtles for habitat and food.

Today, turtles sold in Connecticut pet shops must have a shell greater than four inches and come with written verification that the turtle was bred at a licensed commercial fish farm or aquaculture facility and was not collected from the wild. Turtles can carry Salmonella bacteria, which cause illness in humans. Pet stores display precautions about handling turtles to advise potential customers about the risk of contracting an infection from the bacteria. The precautions usually read as: "Wash hands after touching turtles or other reptiles or tank objects. Keep turtles in their tank to avoid contamination of surfaces in the home. Do not allow turtles or materials from their tank to contact food preparation areas. Households with people at increased risk for infection (e.g., immune-compromised persons, children less than 5 years of age, pregnant women) should consult a physician before purchase."

What about purchasing pet turtles on the Internet? This is a classic case of "buyers beware," as the seller may not mention your legal obligations, especially if the turtle must be shipped (imported) to Connecticut, which requires a permit from the DEP.

Keeping turtles as pets is a complex and controversial topic. Itís important to know that turtles are long-lived and can even out-live their owners. As time goes on and the novelty of owning a turtle wears off, these animals should not be considered disposable. The DEP Wildlife Division wants people to care and learn about the turtles that live in our state and throughout the world. "It is better to gain an appreciation for turtles by patiently watching them in their natural habitats from a distance, rather than having them as pets," stated Jacobson. "Remember, humans cause the most harm to turtle populations, but we have the power to make positive changes towards their survival."

Look for more information to come about turtles and turtle conservation in Connecticut. You can learn about turtles by visiting the DEPís "Year of the Turtle" Web page at www.ct.gov/dep/yearofturtle, as well as subscribe to the DEPís Connecticut Wildlife magazine (www.ct.gov/dep/wildlifemagazine). You also can visit PARCs Web site at www.yearoftheturtle.org.