American Tortoise Rescue, a nonprofit organization established 20 years ago for the protection of all species of tortoise and turtle, is sponsoring its 10th annual World Turtle Day on May 23rd.
Featured in Chase’s Book of Annual Events, the day was created as an annual observance to help people celebrate and protect turtles and tortoises and their disappearing habitats around the world.
Susan Tellem and Marshall Thompson, founders of ATR, advocate humane treatment of all animals, including reptiles.
Since 1990, ATR has placed about 3,000 tortoises and turtles in caring homes.
ATR assists law enforcement when undersize or endangered turtles are confiscated and provides helpful information and referrals to persons with sick, neglected or abandoned turtles.
“World Turtle Day was started to increase respect and knowledge for the world’s oldest creatures. These gentle animals have been around for about 200 million years, yet they are rapidly disappearing as a result of the exotic food industry, habitat destruction, and the cruel pet trade,” says Tellem.
“We are seeing smaller turtles coming into the rescue meaning that older adults are disappearing from the wild, and the breeding stock is drastically reduced. It is a very sad time for turtles and tortoises of the world.” She added that many beautiful sea turtles are losing their lives this month thanks to BP’s uncontrolled oil spill off the coast of Louisiana. “It’s a tragic example of putting profits before preserving our environment,” Tellem said.
Tellem and Thompson note that experts predict the complete disappearance of these creatures within the next 50 years.
They recommend that adults and children do a few small things that can help to save turtles and tortoises for the next generation.
• Never buy a turtle or tortoise from a pet shop as it increases demand from the wild.
• Never remove turtles or tortoises from the wild unless they are sick or injured.
• If a tortoise is crossing a busy street, pick it up and send it in the same direction it was going – if you try to make it go back, it will turn right around again.
• Write letters to legislators asking them to keep sensitive habitat preserved or closed to off-road vehicles, and to prevent offshore drilling (science) that can lead to more endangered sea turtle deaths.
• Report cruelty or illegal sales of turtles and tortoises to your local animal control shelter.
• Report the sale of any turtle or tortoise of any kind less than four inches. This is illegal everywhere in the U.S.
“Outlaw vendors at downtown Mercados and Asian live food markets throughout the U.S. are a major problem for turtles, especially the ‘red-eared slider’ water turtle. These poor creatures have an almost 100 percent mortality rate due to ignorance about their care,” Tellem says. Tiny turtles need to be kept in warm water and must eat underwater to survive.
“Our ultimate goal is to stop the illegal trade in turtles and tortoises around the world. Our first priority here in the U.S. is to stop pet stores and reptile shows from selling illegal hatchling tortoises and turtles of all species under four inches which is against Federal law,” says Thompson. “We also need to educate people who are unfamiliar with their proper care about the real risk of contracting salmonella from turtles. Schools and county fairs are no place for turtles. Wash your hands thoroughly every time you touch a turtle or its water and do not bring turtles into homes where children are under the age of 12.”