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The HSUS Celebrates World Turtle Day 2009

The Humane Society of the United States

The Humane Society of the United States marks World Turtle Day, May 23, by celebrating advances in the past year to protect turtles and tortoises. These animals benefited from strong new regulations, unprecedented enforcement efforts and the dedicated work of animal advocates. The HSUS also applauds Mutts cartoonist and HSUS Board Member Patrick McDonnell, who is celebrating turtles with affection and humor in his cartoon strip this week.

“World Turtle Day calls attention to these remarkable animals and the urgent need to protect them in their natural habitats,” says Beth Preiss, director of the exotic pets campaign for The HSUS. “The Humane Society of the United States encourages people to enjoy the wonder of the world’s turtles in the wild, but to keep them out of the pet trade — both for their health and ours.” 

Florida Gopher Tortoises Are Relocated Instead of Buried Alive

With support from donors and $150,000 from The Folke H. Peterson Foundation, The HSUS prevented 428 threatened gopher tortoises from being buried alive on Florida construction sites in 2008 and plans to rescue at least 400 more this year. Until 2007, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission issued permits allowing the “incidental take” of these rare creatures, which meant they could be buried during construction. The FWC has stopped issuing these permits, but it allows developers with existing permits to use them. 

The lull in the housing market provides an opportunity to save additional animals. The HSUS is reaching out to developers who have grandfathered permits and may be eligible for relocation grant funds. Developers can contact The HSUS’ Florida office for more information at 850-386-3435. Donations to The HSUS’ Gopher Tortoise Rescue Relocation Fund support efforts to relocate gopher tortoises from land slated for development to protected wilderness.  

Box Turtles Saved from Path of a Maryland Highway

The HSUS continues to work on an innovative effort to save box turtles in the path of a controversial highway near Washington, D.C. With the help of turtle-sniffing dogs, almost 400 Eastern box turtles were found before forest habitats were cleared for the first phase of construction of the Intercounty Connector. Since box turtles are notoriously difficult to relocate, those who must be relocated are being studied to monitor their movements and survival. The project aims to learn more about box turtle relocation to protect other populations threatened by development. 

HSI Works to Deter Purchase of Hawksbill Turtle Souvenirs in the Caribbean

The Dominican Republic’s population of hawksbill turtles has long been targeted by poachers for their beautiful shells, which are used to manufacture souvenir items. Humane Society International is working with the Dominican organization Grupo Jaragua to alert tourists that it is illegal to purchase hawksbill turtle products and that these turtles are endangered. A public awareness campaign will reach international tourists upon their arrival at Santo Domingo and Punta Cana airports, and also at the entry point for tourists disembarking from cruise ships.  

States Take Action to Protect Native Turtles

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission approved a draft rule in April prohibiting the commercial harvest of freshwater turtles in the state. The HSUS was among the organizations and scientists who urged passage of the rule, which was championed by Gov. Charlie Crist. Though a few loopholes remain, the rule goes a long way to protect Florida’s natural resources. It is expected to be finalized in June. South Carolina lawmakers passed a new law protecting nine turtle species in April. Now individuals will be limited to taking a maximum of 10 of these turtles at a time and 20 in a year. 

Strong Law Enforcement Helps Protect Turtles

A man convicted of selling or offering to sell undersized turtles in Illinois was sentenced in November 2008 to a year in jail. He was charged with a felony because more than 300 turtles were involved. Selling turtles with shells less than four inches long has been illegal since 1975 to prevent the spread of Salmonella.  

In July 2008, officials announced the unprecedented seizure of nearly 7,000 undersized turtles and tortoises from a Florida business. The company was required to pay a $5,000 fine and was placed on probation for two years. Federal prosecutors, the Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service collaborated on the case.  

An undercover investigation by New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation into the illegal sale of native turtles and other protected reptiles and amphibians led to charges against 18 people in March 2009. During “Operation Shellshock,” investigators discovered that thousands of New York snapping turtles were being shipped illegally to China for food, for example. 


  • World Turtle Day was initiated in 2000 by American Tortoise Rescue, an organization working to protect tortoises and turtles. The annual observance encourages people to celebrate these animals and help protect them and their disappearing habitats around the world.
  • In addition to the Salmonella risk, getting turtles as pets poses risks to the welfare of the animals and harmful the environment. Countless turtles in the pet trade die from poor shipping methods and inadequate care. If they survive, they can live for decades. People may release them outdoors where they can harm native species.

For more information, please visit humanesociety.org/turtles


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The Humane Society of the United States is the nation's largest animal protection organization — backed by 11 million Americans, or one of every 28. For more than a half-century, The HSUS has been fighting for the protection of all animals through advocacy, education and hands-on programs. Celebrating animals and confronting cruelty — On the web at humanesociety.org.

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