Turtle Rescue of Long Island

November 8, 2007

Animal house: Rescuing turtles, finding them homes

Filed under: Uncategorized — Julie @ 3:52 pm

Denise Flaim

Animal House

November 8, 2007

Julie Maguire is looking for a few good ponds.

Feral kitties and Labrador retrievers and all those other usual suspects are not the only ones who need rescuing in these precincts. Abandoned and unwanted turtles and tortoises are more common than you might think, which is what prompted Maguire, of Lake Ronkonkoma, to found Turtle Rescue of Long Island (turtlerescues.org - don’t forget the “s”) in 2004.

Maguire can find good homes for just about any carapaced creature that inches its way across her threshold, with one glaring exception:

The red-eared slider.

Formally known as Trachemys scripta elegans, the semi-aquatic turtle with the red slashes on either side of its head originated in the Southern United States, but its popularity has made it a world traveler. Residing in ponds, lakes and creeks - anywhere the water is fresh and calm - sliders love to bask on rocks or logs, sometimes even atop each other. Their nickname comes from their quick skittering off their basking spot when approached.

Federal law prohibits the sale of tortoises and turtles of less than 4 inches in diameter. (This theoretically is the size at which the animals cannot be placed in a child’s mouth, reducing the risk of salmonella transmission, which is always a concern with reptiles.) Still, red-eared sliders are widely available as hatchlings, sold in tourist areas and ethnic neighborhoods such as the metro area’s many Chinatowns.

Impossibly cute, sliders grow to be up to a foot long and require lots of room - a 55-gallon tank at minimum. Because they sleep, eat and defecate in their tank water, conditions can get rather, er, ripe, unless owners are assiduous about filtration and cleaning.

Maguire figures she gets three to four calls a week from slider owners looking to relinquish their once-cute charges. The best she can do is put them on a waiting list.

“We are so overwhelmed, we can’t take red-eared sliders anymore,” says Maguire, who used to ship rescued sliders to Florida - until that state made them illegal earlier this year.

That leaves private local ponds that are securely fenced: Pushy predators, sliders can easily edge out the native terrapin population. The pond also has to be deep enough for the turtles to overwinter.

Adopters are scarce, to say the least. “If I get two people locally per year, I’m lucky,” Maguire says, sighing. “I get two or three out-of-state requests, but that’s not enough to meet the demand.”

While it is illegal to release a captive turtle in the wild, Maguire suspects desperate slider owners are doing just that.

On the subject of difficult-to-place turtles, the sulcata tortoise runs a somewhat close second to the red-eared slider in terms of the numbers that are coming into rescue and the difficulty in placing them.

Native to northern Africa, sulcatas are large grazing turtles that can easily reach 90 pounds and the proportions of a television set. Unable to survive our winters, they must be sheltered indoors roughly half of the year, and their take-no-prisoners approach to home decor has prompted some to eat through drywall.

“They can’t be kept in a tank - they need a room,” says Maguire, who sends her sulcata rescues to more Southern climes, where they can live outdoors year round.

Whether a sulcata or a slider, most owners had little idea that their saucer-size critter would grow into such a big problem.

“If you’re going to buy a tortoise or a turtle, it’s a lifetime commitment,” Maguire concludes. “They can live 50 to 100 years or more.”

Copyright © 2007, Newsday Inc.

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2 Comments »

  1. A few workers in our area got Salmonella poisoning. It is a good thing that they did not die and they have fully recovered. *

    Comment by Chase Peterson — April 29, 2010 @ 3:39 am

  2. If those workers had learned to practice good hygiene and wash their hands they would not have gotten salmonella, unless of course they got it from some food they had eaten, which is very likely with such cases being found in peanut butter, eggs, and salad of late.

    Comment by Julie — September 29, 2010 @ 7:58 am

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