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May 20, 2010

Major Victory for Turtles as World Turtle Day 2010 Approaches

As World Turtle Day approaches on May 23, The Humane Society of the United States is celebrating a major victory for turtles in California. World Turtle Day was initiated in 2000 by American Tortoise Rescue to highlight the serious threats to the survival of turtles and tortoises and what we can do to protect these remarkable animals in their natural habitats. Below are some of the latest developments affecting turtles.

California Reaffirms Turtle Protection Measure
 
In April, the California Fish and Game Commission decided to prohibit the importation of non-native turtles and frogs for live food markets. The move was adopted to protect California's native species of wildlife, which are at risk from disease, hybridization, competition and predation when nonnative species are released into the environment. At the request of some live food market operators and legislators, the Commission reconsidered the decision on Thursday, and it was reaffirmed. 

"The Humane Society of the United States applauds the Commission for acting in the interest of native wildlife and retaining the prohibition on importing turtles and frogs for live food markets," said Nicole Paquette, senior policy advisor for The HSUS. "This policy will protect California's wildlife and spare millions of animals from being shipped and held in inhumane and crowded conditions. It was adopted after years of public input, including support from The HSUS and other groups, and reaffirming it was the right thing to do."

HSUS Wildlife Care Center Rehabilitates Turtles

The HSUS' Wildlife Care Center in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., cares for thousands of animals each year, including turtles. Here are a few examples:

A peninsula cooter arrived at the center in February with hooks in the throat and neck. The hooks were removed under anesthesia.

A red-bellied slider suffered a shell fracture and was brought to the center in June 2009. After weeks of bandaging and cleaning, the wound started to heal and new shell was growing.

A red-bellied slider became lodged in the windshield of a delivery truck on the Florida Turnpike. The turtle arrived at the center with a swollen left eye and other injuries and was treated with antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medications. 

All these turtles were successfully released to the wild. Photos are available upon request.

Turtles Protected from Construction

The HSUS continues to move Eastern box turtles out of the path of construction of a new Maryland highway, the Intercounty Connector. Working with other groups — and with the help of turtle-sniffing dogs — more than 900 turtles have been found since the effort began in 2008. Early evidence indicates that many of these animals may successfully establish new habitats. About half the turtles appear to have settled into their new locations, while half remain on the move.

The HSUS also joined forces with Florida developers to relocate more than 200 gopher tortoises away from construction sites from 2009 to 2010, even though the developers had permits allowing them to bury the animals alive. The state stopped issuing those permits in 2007.

CDC Report Confirms Health Risks of Pet Turtles

In a February report, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identified three multistate outbreaks of salmonellosis from turtles just since 2006. Street vendors and flea markets were the source of many of the turtles. A 4-week-old Florida child died in 2007 from salmonella traced back to a pet turtle. The turtle was sold illegally at a flea market and given to the family.

The sale of small turtles has been illegal since 1975 under federal health regulations to prevent the spread of salmonella. Turtle sellers petitioned the Food and Drug Administration to overturn the ban in 2006, and filed a lawsuit when the petition was denied. In March, a U.S. District court judge ruled that FDA had clear authority to enact the ban, and also remanded the matter back to FDA for further review of the rule.

Potential Impact of Oil Spill on Sea Turtles

Oil continues to flow into the Gulf of Mexico from the Deepwater Horizon spill. The effect on wildlife could be devastating, especially to vulnerable species like sea turtles. All sea turtle species found in U.S. coastal waters are threatened or endangered. The Audubon Aquarium of the Americas is reportedly cleaning a baby endangered Kemp's Ridley turtle with a toothbrush after the animal was found floating in the oil slick Tuesday. Since the spill, more than 150 dead sea turtles have been found along Gulf coastlines. Though they had no obvious signs of oil contamination, tests are in progress and the number is said to be higher than usual.

The HSUS has pledged support to officials leading wildlife rescue efforts in the Gulf. Our Wildlife Care Center in South Florida, one of the highest-volume wildlife rehabilitation facilities in the country, is geared up to help, and staff from our other four centers are prepared to help as needed.

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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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