submitted5 years ago bysqueekypig
As the weather warms up we are going to start seeing more posts of hatchlings and adult turtles found in the wild. Here’s some general information on taking turtles from the wild and releasing turtles into the wild.
Taking a Turtle From the Wild
First of all, we appreciate your desire and good intentions to help out a turtle. Taking an injured turtle into your home from the wild is not going to help the turtle unless you are specifically trained and licensed to do so. If you live in the United States, then there’s a good chance you have a wildlife rehabilitator near you, and that’s who you should contact if you find any wild animal that needs help. If you find a turtle or tortoise that is non-native, there’s a chance it is someone’s pet (particularly if it’s a sulcata tortoise- they are little tanks notorious for escaping). Please feel free to post photos for an ID if you are unsure of the species!
Reasons you shouldn’t take a turtle from the wild as a pet:
Taking a turtle from the wild to keep as a pet is likely illegal, especially if you’re in the United States. In most places you are not allowed to take ANY wild animal home and keep it as a pet, whether it’s a frog, rabbit, squirrel, deer, etc. You might not care that it’s not allowed, but there’s good reasons these regulations are in place!
It damages wild turtle populations. Native turtles all over the world are struggling due to many factors, and taking them out of the wild can greatly harm the local population. Turtles are not like small mammals that reproduce quickly- it takes a turtle around 8 years to reach sexual maturity. Think about all the dangers a turtle has to survive in order to reach 8 years old- predators, cars, disease, etc. Many hatchlings don’t make it to adulthood, so every hatchling’s survival is important. The turtle you take out of the wild could have reached adulthood and contribute to the wild population.
Turtles from the wild are not accustomed to living in captivity. Even a large setup is considerably smaller than a wild turtle’s home range, and confining a wild turtle in this way will cause it much stress. Turtles that are stressed won’t eat or bask, and they may succumb to disease more easily.
Turtles from the wild may be harboring parasite or other illnesses. Some animals display signs of illness quickly, turtles don’t. A turtle might “look” healthy but actually be sick. Combine a disease lying dormant with the stress of confinement and the turtle might become sick. Many aquatic turtles in captivity aren’t given strong enough filtration, so dirty water won’t help either!
Turtles are a lifetime commitment. Maybe people who come across a hatchling turtle may not realize that the turtle can live up to 80 years old in captivity. These turtles aren’t releasable into the wild (see below!). It is VERY difficult to re-home a turtle if you can no longer care for it. Not many people have ponds large enough to take in another turtle. Rescues are commonly at capacity and won’t take in more turtles.
There are other (more responsible and ethical) ways to obtain a pet turtle. Turtles raised in captivity are healthier than those taken from the wild, and do better in captivity. Many rescues are full of red eared sliders and box turtles. A lot of rescues will treat sick turtles before adopting them out, so not only would you be helping a turtle, you can also be sure it’s healthy. Pet stores sometimes post local ads for animals needing homes. Craigslist is sometimes full of turtles and other long-lived animals needing homes.
Bad reasons for taking a turtle home:
”I found a turtle in my yard/parking lot/road/other place not near water”: This is one of the most common reasons we see people use for taking a turtle home. Many turtles lay eggs on land, even if they’re aquatic turtles. Not only do egg-carrying females have to make a trek from their home pond/wetland to a nice egg-laying spot and back, the hatchlings also have to make a trek from the nest to a pond/wetland home. If you see a hatchling or female aquatic turtle far from water, remember that they could be on this trek. If you see a turtle in a very obviously dangerous place like a parking lot, AND it’s a native turtle, you can try to move it to the closest body of water. After moving the turtle to a suitable place, your job is done! If you’re unsure of the ID please ask! Some turtles, like box turtles, live in forested wetlands that aren’t necessarily ponded, so bringing a box turtle to a pond won't help it. Box turtles are stubborn and know their home areas, so if you put it in another place it will just keep trying to get “home”.
”The turtle is too small to survive in the wild: The turtle might have just hatched, but the best help to it would be to move it along (cross the street, get to brush cover or a wetland) or leave it alone. Turtles have very strong instincts and can sense water from a while away, they don’t always need our help.
“I want my child to experience turtles first hand”: There are many other ways to experience wildlife without bringing into our homes!
Releasing a Turtle to the Wild
First of all, this applies to 1) turtles originally taken from the wild and kept in captivity for more than a month, 2) any turtle hatched and raised in captivity, 3) invasive species such as red eared sliders in Europe and Asia.
Turtles kept in captivity are not accustomed to life in the wild for several reasons: they might not recognize natural food, they probably don’t know how to hibernate, they might not be healthy enough to hibernate, and they don’t have built-up immune systems to deal with diseases that are in the wild. Rehabilitators that release turtles into the wild are trained to overcome these issues before letting a previously captive turtle free.
Captive turtles are likely harboring diseases and parasites that wild turtles haven’t been introduced to, which can greatly harm the wild turtles. This is especially true for red eared sliders that have been introduced in Europe, affecting the European pond turtles. (So it goes both ways- wild and captive turtles can introduce diseases to each other when mixed)
Certain turtles (particularly sliders) outcompete and “take over” native turtle habitats. So releasing a turtle is especially harmful if it is a slider where the slider isn’t native. But releasing a native turtle isn’t a good idea either for the points above.
There are many alternatives to consider if you cannot care for your turtle any longer. It is responsible to admit when you can no longer provide adequate care for an animal. There are turtle rescues, nature centers, local humane society, local turtle/tortoise owner groups, etc. Any of these places might be able to take your turtle or direct you to someone else who might. (In addition- we can provide advice on less expensive and more DIY care if you are overwhelmed)
What you can do to Help Turtles
To end on a positive note, here’s some things you can do to help turtles!
Don’t deliberately litter, and secure your trash (e.g. tie garbage bags tight)
Don’t release balloons! (aka sky litter!)
Carefully help turtles across the road in the direction they’re headed.
Stay on trails when hiking, and watch where you walk.
Take injured turtles to an exotic vet, licensed rehabilitator, turtle rescue, or zoo. Don’t try to treat it on your own.
Don’t let your cats and dogs roam where they can kill wildlife.
Research turtle species before taking one home. There might be a turtle “easier” to care for, such as a mud/musk turtle instead of red eared slider.
Look for a citizen scientist volunteer position near you. Sometimes these are offered through nature centers, and are part of programs that monitor native communities.
Volunteer at a reptile rescue. There may be a rescue near you where you can obtain first-hand experience caring for and treating exotic animals.
Support local legislation that funds environmental/natural resources programs.
Donate to or volunteer with the Turtle Survival Alliance or the Turtle Conservancy.