In My Hard Shelled Opinion
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No-Kill Conservation

     It is my opinion and belief that the killing of pet turtles as required by endangered species or state laws including turtles that were only temporary pets recently taken from the wild is totally unconscionable. This includes turtles confiscated by government authorities or turned over to animal shelters. These laws have absolutely nothing to do with conservation or the preservation of any species of turtles and have everything to do with the aggressive assertion of authority over the general public. The persons given this absolute authority by way of their employment are not elected representatives of the people and have no active oversight. Most elected representatives want nothing to do with representing pet owners. They are content to allow government agencies to operate with no oversight.

      Pet owners have no rights or avenues to appeal the death sentences given their beloved pets. Once pet turtles are confiscated, their owners are treated with contempt as though they were criminals. They never know if their pets are killed or given to others for experimentation or distribution. There are no companion laws governing the disposition of confiscated turtles. And if a turtle is incorrectly identified, too bad. The owner will not get it back.

     I know first hand that confiscated turtles are sometimes simply given to others. I brought home six baby red-eared sliders from a herpetological society meeting. The story given was that the babies were confiscated from a person illegally selling them on the street. At the time the ban on selling turtles under four inches in length was in force. However, red-eared sliders are not native to Pennsylvania and may be legally sold. I can understand ordering the person not to sell them anymore, but I do not know by what law they were confiscated and simply given to others.

     The tightening of state laws like the new rules in Pennsylvania starting January 1, 2007 has sentenced countless turtles to death. There is no other legal option. Once in captivity they may not be released.

     I can hear the reaction already. What government authority is killing pet turtles. I am not saying that all agencies take possession of turtles and kill them. They do it by prohibiting possession of the turtles and prohibiting release of the turtles leaving the only legal action left being the legal killing of the turtles. Other government agencies contribute directly to the killing of turtles by not taking appropriate steps to protect them from being routinely and predictably killed. This includes turtles classified as endangered by the federal government like the Alabama red-bellied turtle.

     I do not accept any of the excuses used to justify such practices. The killing of a pet box turtle does nothing to preserve the species. It is not a freak of nature to be a pet and, heaven forbid, like it's owner. It is not going to go out if released and recruit other box turtles to become pets or seek out human companions. It has no political or cultural agenda. It is no threat to humans or other animals except a few bugs and slugs.

     But this is the trend sweeping across the United States. Regulatory agencies at the federal and state levels are mixing social agendas with what they pretend is conservation. They intend to keep as many native species turtles and tortoises out of the hands of the public as they possibly can. It does not matter if a species is very abundant and in no threat of extinction. But once a species is placed on any of the endangered species lists, it is almost doomed to a slow diminishing trend. And some agencies are putting as many species as they can on their lists.

     One trick agencies like the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission use is to have a category like "species of concern". The excuses used to place a turtle on such a list are very suspicious. One popular excuse is to say they do not know enough about the distribution and abundance of the species and they are "concerned" that the species may be in decline. Therefore, the public should not possess any of these turtles until they learn more. And they get away with it because they are in absolute control. No turtle has ever been downgraded once on an endangered species list.

     The excuses used or sited are outrageous and demonstrate contempt for the public. One of these excuses often sited is the inability of turtles released into wild environments to adapt and survive. If this were so, turtles would not be popular pets. They would not be able to adapt to captivity and survive let alone thrive. The fact that turtles can live in captivity is proof that they can adapt to new environments and, if released, new locations in the wild.

     On the other hand these same authorities discourage the keeping of pet turtles because they may become a nuisance species if they end up in a natural environment where they do not exist as native species. And what makes them nuisances; they adapt, survive, and thrive within a political border they have no concept of. Isn't that the complete opposite of not being able to adapt to new places. Isn't that called having it both ways. Isn't that both sides of the same argument.

     This also makes it illegal for turtles to cross state lines on their own because they will be considered nuisance species if they do. They have no means of applying for legal residency. They will be illegal aliens without any protections afforded them. If this sounds far fetched to you, read some of the state laws pertaining to turtles.

     Another popular excuse for killing captive turtles rather than releasing them is that they may introduce diseases into wild populations. There is an unproved belief that a die off of wild tortoises is the result of a disease contracted from released tortoises. Maybe. Maybe captive tortoises contracted the same disease from wild tortoises.  Endangered or otherwise threatened species turtles can be quarantined, examined, and treated as necessary before being released. There is never a good reason to kill these animals. The one health condition a turtle can not recover from is death!

     I know many people who have good intentions who read and repeat such false propaganda. I know many more people have good intentions who believe they know what turtles really want and what is good for them. They somehow come to the position that keeping turtles out of the hands of humans preserves and protects wild species of turtles and makes turtles happier. How can these do-gooders know more about what is good for pet turtles than the people who love and care for them.

     Another popular excuse is to site the low reproductive rates of turtles and to explain how the taking of just one turtle from a wild population dooms the whole population. Turtles actually reproduce (lay eggs) in generous numbers only to be preyed upon directly and their eggs eaten. Turtles have much better odds of thriving in protective captivity. Many pet turtles begin life in captivity and never know anything else. But even captive bred turtles are not safe from the executioners of government authorities who make no distinction. They are afraid that the captive bred turtle is the offspring of wild caught turtles. These turtles are doomed because of their species (sounds much like racism to me).

     I do believe that wild turtles can be over collected. But this is always an excuse that does not equate to the bans on captive breeding of turtles and bans on collecting very abundant species for personal pets. Oh but the authorities do not want to allow the over collecting of wild turtles for breeding stock and they want to keep abundant species abundant. The conclusions are always the same. The authorities can not prove where any turtle comes from so their self serving conclusion is always that no one should have them.

     I believe there are enough pet turtles who could breed and produce enough offspring to fill the needs of all future demand for pet turtles. There are also many turtles who outlive the desire or ability of their owners to keep them. These turtles can readily adapt to new homes. Just look at the Adoptions page here on to see what we are doing to help. Yes there are species currently protected by the endangered species laws that people would love to have. That subject will be covered in another opinion.

     And do you know that the farm breeding of turtles in the United States is a very big and successful industry. MILLIONs of turtles are bred every year and shipped all around the world. Not hundreds, not thousands, not hundreds of thousands. Millions! I believe all species of turtles can be farm raised in sufficient numbers to be considered abundant and in no need of protection by the endangered species laws.

     We must also recognize that many people who encounter turtles especially baby turtles pick them up and take them home. Some do it to make pets out of them or out of fascination. Some do it to protect them from harm. None do it to subject the turtles to death sentences. No laws will stop people unaware of the laws from picking up turtles. I know; I get email from some of these people everyday even in winter.

     There are many no-kill shelters for dogs, cats, and other unwanted animals. A no-kill trend is spreading across the country. No-kill shelters often include the use of foster homes for various reasons. The health needs of these animals are satisfied. The concept of no-kill shelters includes finding homes for as many adoptable animals as possible and reducing the over population of the pets.

     It is time for government agencies who prohibit people from keeping their pet turtles and tortoises to provide no-kill shelters. If they are really out to preserve a species from extinction, they must preserve each animal of that species. If they are going to block release of pet turtles and tortoises, they should provide no-kill shelters or sufficient means for no-kill shelters and foster care to exist. I can not imagine any turtle or tortoise lacking a shelter or foster care to go to. If they are truly specimens of endangered or threatened species, they should be rehabilitated and returned to the wild not killed. And while they are in shelters and foster care, they should be given every opportunity to reproduce. How can anyone believe that killing animals preserves their species from extinction.

     In conclusion let me repeat my opinion. I believe that requirements to kill pet turtles or other turtles temporarily held in captivity is unconscionable. The laws should be revised immediately to prevent the killing of turtles considered endangered, threatened, or otherwise at risk including all confiscated turtles and tortoises. No-kill shelters should be provided for all confiscated turtles and tortoises. All laws providing authority to confiscate turtles should include detailed provisions for the no-kill disposition of those animals. No-kill is conservation; killing is destructive.

Thomas R. Schucker