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Farmers Create a Terrapin Tragedy

At this time of year (August 1998), zoos all over the UK receive calls from owners desperate to find a home for unwanted red-eared terrapins.
So drastic has the situation become that some vets are forced into destroying, by lethal injection, perfectly healthy young adult terrapins which could expect at least another 20 or 30 years of life.
The problem begins in the United States where three to four million hatchling red-eared terrapins are exported each year.
Most originate from intensive turtle farms in Louisiana and Mississippi. Each farm consists of several artificial earth ponds, each of which can contain up to 13,000 breeding adults.
There is an extremely high annual mortality due to stress, disease, nutritional disorders, overcrowding and inadequate depth of water.
However, commercial hunters collect replacement breeding stock from the wild to make good these losses.
These hunters also catch and export 25,000 to 30,000 adult animals per week to foreign food markets, mainly in the Far East.
It seems incredible that any population could sustain this scale of losses yet terrapins do seem to be able to cope. Certainly, I saw plenty in the coastal lagoons of South Carolina last summer.
Terrapins are, or course, aquatic while tortoises are land-based animals.

Interspersed among the anguished phone calls about terrapins are calls from people desperate to buy a tortoise for their child, as they remember them in their own youth.
The importation of tortoises was banned in 1984 on the urgings of the RSPCA, mainly on welfare grounds.
But some parts of their Mediterranean range were being "collected out" for the pet trade.
Most welfare activists would like to see such a ban on red-eared terrapins - or at least a great reduction in the number imported - if only to stop the creation of all these sad, unwanted former pets at the six to ten years stage.

People interested in terrapins and tortoises, and how to keep them properly, should consider joining the Tortoise Trust.
Its quarterly newsletter is a masterly source of high-quality information and articles.
Write to the

Tortoise Trust, BM Tortoise, London, WC1N 3XX

Terrapins not advised as pets

It really surprises me that many people still keep red-eared terrapins as pets.
Where are they getting them from?
A lot of the larger pet stores have stopped stocking them because of the ethical and welfare problems involved.
Yet still pet keepers trundle up to zoos with plate-sized monsters in impossibly small tanks and containers.

"Careful, he bites and quite hard too" is often the warning.

Three to four million red-eared terrapins are exported from the US every year. Most are captive bred from intensive open-air turtle farms in the hot and humid states of Louisiana and Mississipi. The farms take the forms of enormous earth pits flooded with waster and containing up to 13,000 breeding adult terrapins. Just imagine what disease risks there are with such overcrowding in such humid conditions.

In the UK, many thousands of tiny hatchlings the size of 50 pence pieces are imported as pets each year. Of these just a small percentage survive.

At one time, the RSPCA estimated survival rates at a mere two per cent. Despite the enormous mortality, there still remains the surviving two per cent and what to do with them on maturity.

Of course the turtle farms in the US are not concerned about this at all. The same people capture 20,000 to 30,000 adult animals a week from the Louisiana swamplands and export them to be eaten in the Far East.

If a pet owner is tempted to keep terapins outside in the family goldfish pond, it won't be long before the goldfish are all dead. Terrapins are carnivorous they eat meat, and lots of it.

Recently, I watched groups of pre-school children gazing in fascination as a tortoise ambled slowly across the grass. For most of them, this was their first encounter with a live tortoise and they were immediately attracted to it.

Terrapins of a similar size are far too dangerous to let such children handle. Apart from the fact that they bite savagely when the mood takes them, they don't take kindly to being picked up and will struggle and scratch.
Handling terrapins or their containers is just not advised at all for young children. Its just not worth the risk.