[Readers’ forum] Turtle abuse


March 19, 2010 - 12:00 AM

She crosses the road barely awake, somewhat disoriented and blindly unaware of oncoming traffic.
This is the story of a female turtle, possibly holding eggs in her womb that she has carried for years until she finds the “right” spot. This egg laying might have taken place had she not fallen victim to a turtle race fancier the previous year.
Being collected and kept, sometimes for months, in often inadequate surroundings, she is now ill from a condition called hypovitaminosis and is caused by improper feeding. This Kansas state reptile is in dire need of medical intervention, but she will exist for months in this condition before she dies.
The improper life cycle of the previous year is what ails her. She also has been released to the wrong place. Turtles are site specific. This means they exist their entire lives in a specific area, often no larger than a baseball field. Where that begins and ends is known only to that turtle, so the importance of returning it to the exact spot of capture is extremely important.
Returned to the wrong place, they have been track-ed for years seeking their home place, never giving up. They could probably find it if it were not for roads.
When turtles come out of hibernation, as they are now doing or soon will be, the first activities they seek are bathing and mating. Eating is a couple of weeks later. Their diet is large and varied and because they are a hibernating animal, they have periods when they must gorge. To disturb this cycle at any point endangers future generations of turtles and especially the one you pick up.
A local fair last year had 200 collected turtles. Those were doomed turtles. The turtle race was Oct. 3. All the turtles in my care (which I have had for years) went into hibernation Oct. 1. It was a particularly cold onset of winter. The turtles forced to race were probably feeling sluggish and should have been seeking winter shelter. I found two in the street the next day. The oldest and largest was already sick.
The point of this letter is to ask that people do some research before collecting turtles. They are fascinating like most of nature, but very specific in their needs. In a time of dwindling species, wouldn’t it be a small loss for people to give up “traditional turtle racing” to ensure the continuation of this benign and docile animal?
Please think of this before collecting them specifically for turtle races and then releasing them willy nilly.

Zoey Claire
Kincaid, Kan.

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