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Conservationists urge public to keep box turtles in natural habitat

Box turtles are listed as a species of critical concern and don't always make for being good pets.
Conservationists urge public to keep box turtles in natural habitat
Posted at 10:51 AM, May 28, 2023

As the unofficial start to summer approaches with the long-awaited holiday weekend, people are eagerly anticipating the warmer weather and outdoor activities.

However, amidst the excitement, it's essential to remember that humans aren't the only ones looking forward to enjoying the season.

Many animals and reptiles, including box turtles, emerge during this time. With that in mind, conservationists are reminding the public that it is illegal in many parts of the U.S. to keep a wild box turtle as a pet.

Joanna Prosser, animal care director of Walden's Puddle Wildlife Center, is deeply passionate about caring for animals. At the center, she has witnessed people taking wild box turtles and attempting to turn them into pets. These turtles tend to appear more frequently in the spring and summer months, capturing the attention of both children and adults alike.

Prosser emphasizes that there are regulations in place to protect these creatures. Many states restrict or outright ban the possession of box turtles. These regulations aim to ensure the turtles' well-being and their ability to thrive in their natural environment.

Within the encampment at Walden's Puddle Wildlife Center, there are several turtles that were once pets but are no longer wanted by their owners.

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Among them is Kenny, a lively turtle that keeps the staff entertained. Due to being raised as a pet without receiving the proper nutrition, Kenny's shell didn't form correctly, preventing him from fully closing up inside his shell. He's the only box turtle the facility keeps in a tank.

Prosser highlights the specific needs of these turtles, including their diet, lighting and heating requirements. Taking an animal into one's care without the confidence and knowledge to meet these specific needs can be detrimental to the animal's health.

Furthermore, turtles can carry salmonella, a contagious bacteria that poses health risks to humans. These factor reinforce the importance of appreciating wild box turtles from a safe distance and leaving them in their natural habitat, according to Prosser.

Releasing box turtles into new environments is also not advisable due to their strong homing instinct. Debbie Sykes, the director of Nashville Wildlife Conservation, explains that releasing them in unfamiliar areas may cause them to spend more time attempting to find their way back home.

This behavior exposes them to various dangers such as car collisions and encounters with railroad tracks, ultimately jeopardizing their survival.

Prosser acknowledges the declining population of box turtles across the United States, primarily due to habitat destruction, fragmentation, and the spread of diseases. In fact she says, they're a a species of critical concern.

Recognizing the vital role these turtles play in the ecosystem, she urges people to help them thrive, ensuring their existence for future generations.

To coexist peacefully with turtles, activists recommend adopting a few measures. If you plan to have a box turtle as a pet, consider obtaining one that was born or raised in captivity, reducing the demand for wild turtles.

Additionally, before mowing your lawn, check for turtles and other wildlife, such as bunny nests, to prevent unintentional harm. If you encounter a turtle crossing the road, when it is safe to do so, assist the turtle by carefully helping it cross in the direction it was heading.

This story was originally published by Aaron Cantrell for Scripps News Nashville.

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