Clackamas, Ore. October 24, 2011 – The illegal sale of an Oregon native turtle on the Internet website Craigslist was averted last week when the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife persuaded the trafficker to turn over the animal in hopes it can be returned to the wild.
The 4- to 5-year-old western pond turtle is under quarantine at ODFW’s Northwest Region headquarters in Clackamas pending a health evaluation following its recovery at an Oregon Department of Forestry facility in Forest Grove. Western pond turtles are listed as “Sensitive-Critical” on the Oregon State Sensitive Species List and possession, removal from the wild, and harming of these animals is prohibited under state law. The turtle was dropped off at the Department of Forestry office by an unidentified woman after she was contacted by ODFW and informed that possession and/or sale of the animal is against the law.
To be released into the wild the turtle will have to remain under quarantine for at least three months while ODFW veterinarians conduct a battery of tests to make sure the animal is healthy and does not pose any health risks to other wild native turtles. Testing is necessary because it appears the turtle had been held in captivity for several months and exposed to non-native turtles that potentially could have transmitted respiratory and other diseases to the Oregon native. If the animal is not deemed a suitable candidate for release back into the wild it will be kept in captivity at a state-permitted facility for the remainder of its natural life; otherwise it may have to be destroyed, according to Susan Barnes, ODFW conservation biologist.
“All of this could have been avoided if people would have just left this turtle in the wild,” said Barnes.
Taking native turtles out of the wild is always a bad idea, according to Barnes, because all of them are considered critical to the species’ survival.
“Every time one of these animals is harmed or killed it jeopardizes the future of the species,” said Barnes. “Every member of the population is important.”
Barnes said the reason turtles often show up for sale on Craigslist is because many people do not realize they have unique requirements that make them difficult to care for. For example, western pond turtles need both aquatic and terrestrial habitat, which, even it were legal to have one as a pet, most pet owners are not able or willing to provide long-term.
“Most people think that turtles are just fine in water all the time or on land all the time,” said Barnes. “This turtle needs both. Most people aren’t able to or don’t want to provide both kinds of habitat.”
The red-eared slider is the most common semi-aquatic turtle species in the pet trade. Sliders are not native to Oregon and are illegal in the state due their invasive nature and the harmful effects they can have on Oregon’s native species. Unfortunately, sliders often end up being released into the wild because they are difficult to care for and they often outline the interest of their caregiver.
Oregon’s native turtles are an important part of the food chain, according to Barnes, who pointed out that these reptiles eat aquatic bugs and vegetation and provide food for other animals. For example, each year they lay eggs, which are a source of food for raccoons, squirrels, snakes, shrews and other wildlife. The turtles themselves are sought after as prey by river otters, great blue herons, and other animals. Turtles are also considered an indicator species of environmental health because potentially harmful substances such as lead and mercury accumulate in their blood and fatty tissues and can be measured for levels of toxicity.
“We want people to enjoy our native wildlife,” said Barnes, “In the case of turtles some people are loving them to death. As with all wildlife, we’d prefer people enjoy them from a distance.”