A mistake you may have made

On Saturday, I saw a very large turtle making a very brave attempt to cross Interstate 485. It was somewhere between lanes 1 and 2 of 3. I wanted to pull over and help it to safety but I was scared I’d become roadkill along with it if I did.

My friend Alan said he rescued a turtle that very same day from a different road in Rock Hill.

And on Sunday I saw another turtle hanging out on the side of the highway.

I frequently see them in the road while running, and unfortunately none of those are ever alive.

This may or may not be related, but I have met many, many people over the years who have had pet turtles. They keep them for 3 months or 3 years or something in between, depending on how long it takes them to move and not have room for them / grow bored of them / claim they got too big to handle. These people then return them to the nearest pond / lake / river, thinking it’s no big deal.

The thing is, it is a big deal. When you take in a pet turtle and start feeding it turtle food on a regular schedule, the turtle forgets how to find food for itself. What do you think happens when you let that turtle into the wild? Not only is it bad for the turtle, but apparently it’s illegal.

You don’t have to take my word for it:

From a site about Red Eared Sliders:

A captive RES will be more susceptible to predators, starvation and disease. They are not conditioned for a harsher environment and are dependent on people for their food and safety. A released captive must compete against a native turtle population, could disrupt an ecosystem and may possibly introduce new diseases. Released captives may dangerously stray from their area of abandonment. They will be vulnerable to predators out of water, to people and to vehicular traffic. They may not be prepared for harsh weather conditions or seasonal changes.

Releasing a previously captive turtle is not an acceptable or humane decision.

Another site mentioning the release of red eared sliders (they are popular pets):

The Problem: You find yourself in possession of a red-eared slider and, while you have grown fond of it, you no longer feel you can take care of it properly. You have called different local shelters and none of them will accept the turtle. You begin to realize you have a problem. It is illegal to release a captive turtle into the wild. Not only is it a poor decision for the turtle (who has most likely become accustomed to being fed turtle food sticks it will not find in the wild), it is bad for the environment due to the parasites it may pass onto the surrounding population of turtles. By releasing a red-eared slider, you also risk having that slider breed with another turtle of its kind. Once a colony is established, it can push out the native species living in the area. If you have been contemplating wild release of your pet turtle(s), please reconsider. Your decision could have a serious effect on the environment, and drastically impact conservation efforts.

The above web site takes turtle care so seriously they even have a will you can fill out for who will care for your pet turtle after you are gone.

If you have to get rid of a pet turtle, please do so responsibly. Call a vet and ask for a recommendation. Give it to a local rescue group. See if a friend or family member will take it in. Please.

This topic hits home with me. I’ve had Spike, my red-eared slider, for 12 years. Yes, 12 years. I rescued him from a roommate in college who left him for dead when she moved out of the house we all shared, and he’s been with me ever since. He’s a great pet and I’ve never even considered getting rid of him.

Spike the turtle

I’m writing this post not to brag about being a responsible pet owner or to chastise anyone who has done this in the past. My assumption is that people do not realize what they are doing to their turtle and potentially to the environment when they release a turtle into the wild. I write this post in hopes to help get the word out. Turtles are great animals. Let’s do what we can to keep them off the interstates.