Today (May 23rd) is World Turtle Day and the Humane Society of the United States is asking that people be aware of any vendors that sell or distribute baby turtles. Despite a ban in the 1970’s due to the risk of Salmonella from pet turtles, they continue to be sold around the country.
“Turtles have played a significant role in the world for millions of years,” said Debbie Leahy, Captive Wildlife Regulatory Specialist for The HSUS. “It’s disheartening to see their populations decline due to something as easily corrigible as not purchasing baby turtles as pets. It’s destructive to both turtles and humans.”
Turtles have been around for more than 200 million years, and are endlessly fascinating for children and adults alike, but they require special environments in order to live. Many pet turtles perish from inadequate conditions, and owners also need to be prepared to care for an animal that can grow to over a foot long, and live for decades.
Vulnerable humans, such as children and the elderly, can be at real risk if they come into contact with turtles. A major salmonella outbreak in 2001 and 2008 sickened 107 people in 34 states was due to pet turtles. A 4 week old baby in Florida even died after her family was given a turtle that was illegally purchased at a flea market. The risk of sickness is so high that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that turtles be kept out of any home with children under the age of 5 years old.
Due to habitat loss and being used for the food and traditional medicine industries, turtles are facing multiple threats to their survival. Despite this, May is a busy month for turtles – many are emerging from hibernation and looking for mates and nesting areas. World Turtle Day was designated in 2000 by the American Tortoise Rescue to highlight the survival threats of turtles and tortoises, and what we can do to safeguard their future.
For more information on turtles and tortoises, check out the website for the American Tortoise Rescue, or The Humane Society of the United States.