2011 Is the Year of the Turtle
Turtles are a common sight now that the nesting season is in full swing. They are crossing roads in search of nest sites, coming into yards to dig their nests and lay eggs, and basking in the warm sun. If you come across a turtle, especially one in your yard or crossing a road, you may be tempted to take it as a pet. Don't. The Department of Environmental Protection cautions that turtles should be left in the wild both for your own good and the good of the turtle.
"Removing individual turtles from the wild, including hatchlings, can have a huge impact on the local population," said Julie Victoria, a Wildlife Biologist with the DEP Wildlife Division. "Turtle populations require high levels of adult survivorship -- every individual is important to the population's stability." A turtle must live for many years and reproduce numerous times in order to replace itself in the population. Losing adult turtles, particularly adult females, is a serious problem that can lead to the eventual local extinction of a population.
Keep in mind that caring for a pet turtle is not as easy as you may think. They require specific temperatures, diets, and lighting for digestion and shell health. Cages must be kept clean as turtles can carry salmonella. And, turtles live a long time – 50 to 100 years for a box turtle.
Once the novelty of having a turtle as a pet wears off, the owner is faced with a decision of what to do with it. "Captive turtles, whether they were collected from the wild or bought at a pet store, should never be released to the wild," stressed Victoria. "Released turtles rarely survive, frequently introduce undetectable respiratory diseases to wild populations, and in the case of non-native species, may harm native turtle populations." The best way to enjoy turtles is to watch them in their native habitat. Help keep wild turtles wild and leave them where you find them.
Editor's note: All information in this post was contributed.