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Collecting Turtles from the Wild and Releasing Them to the Wild

Last Updated: 1/17/06


The following is my service announcement about what I believe about removing turtles from the wild and releasing them back into the wild. While many turtle proponents agree with me, the following is solely my opinion.

With regards to turtles under 4", see my baby turtle introduction and legalities page.

Collecting Turtles from the Wild

It is not advisable to remove turtles from the wild, even with the landowner's permission. Turtle populations are generally doing poorly. The removal of a single individual has a great impact on the overall population. Turtles usually live a long time if not killed by predators, vehicles, accidents, bad weather, or humans. Each female turtle may only have a few surviving offspring. Many species of turtle are being wiped out by overzealous collectors. Some collect them for food, and others collect them as pets. If you see a turtle in the wild, leave it alone unless it is obviously sick or injured or in immediate danger of being hit by a car or otherwise harmed. If the turtle is crossing a road, move it to the other side away from traffic. Beware of turtles that bite such as snapping turtles. If the turtle is injured, bring it to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator or turtle organization. In general, in the USA, it is illegal to remove a turtle from the wild or for someone to possess such a turtle without a permit.

Many people collect turtles that they find in the belief that they are helping the turtle. This is rarely the case as turtles need to have proper diet, housing, lighting, heat, water, etc. to do well. Even if kept expertly, they will not have to opportunity to perpetuate their species. One lady e- mailed me that she had collected some 20 box turtles from the wild that she kept in an outdoor pen. I helped her diagnose the botflies that they had. She believed she helped them by collecting them (they did have a nice setup and would not be run over by cars anyway) but since they cannot breed outside of their little group, their loss to the wild is significant (especially since they can live over 100 years, produce few young, and are severely declining in number.). I cannot bear to think of the millions of rare turtles killed for food. That is just plain stupid.

Releasing Turtles to the Wild

Many such people who take in a box turtle or red-eared slider for example, then find out that the turtle is better off where it was in the wild or that they cannot or will not provide the care that the turtle needs. Then, the turtle is often released back into the wild. If the turtle has not been in captivity for long, has not had contact with other turtles, appears healthy, and it is not below freezing, it is often perfect to then place it back where it was found. If it can only be released to other areas, then there is the risk that it will not be able to adapt to a strange place. Turtles set up territories that they are familiar with and resident turtles often do not like newcomers. A misplaced turtle may have problems finding food or may eat another species that is non-replenishable (thus harming other animals unintentionally). If the turtle has had contact with other turtles, it may carry a pathogen, disease, bacteria, virus, fungus, parasite, etc. into the wild and harm other turtles. Turtles from pet shops should never be released for this reason as they almost always carry something. If the turtle has been captive for a long time, it may have forgotten how to take care of itself in the wild (finding food, hibernating, etc.). Finally, if it is winter, and the turtle would normally be hibernating, it must be kept in captivity (away from other turtles) until spring when it can be released. A turtle should never be released to an area where it is not native. For example, tropical turtles should not be released to temperate areas as they will not survive winter. If you are unsure if your turtle should be released, contact any of the four turtle organizations on my main turtle links page for their opinion about your unique situation. The legalities of release vary state to state.

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