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May 20, 2011

The HSUS Celebrates World Turtle Day by Asking People Not to Purchase Baby Turtles

Survivors from the age of dinosaurs honored every May 23; protect families and endangered turtles by not contributing to their illegal trade

WASHINGTON – World Turtle Day is May 23, and in an effort to celebrate and preserve these endearing creatures, The Humane Society of the United States is urging people to beware of fairs, carnivals, flea markets, street vendors and pet shops that sell or distribute baby turtles. Despite a federal ban enacted in 1975 because Salmonella from pet turtles had become a major public health concern, baby turtles (those with shells less than four inches long) continue to be sold throughout the country.

“Turtles have played a significant role in the world for millions of years,” said Debbie Leahy, Captive Wildlife Regulatory Specialist for The HSUS. “It’s disheartening to see their populations decline due to something as easily corrigible as not purchasing baby turtles as pets. It’s destructive to both turtles and humans.”

Turtles are one of the most enduring creatures on Earth. They have survived for more than 200 million years, and continue to fascinate each generation of children, who find endless wonders under those hard shells. Yet our connection to turtles can also be damaging. Many turtle species are declining in part due to the pet trade. Children often lose interest in pet animals obtained on impulse, and parents may not be prepared to care for a turtle who can live for decades and grow to be a foot long. Turtles need proper lighting and temperature, a water filtration system, and room to grow. Countless pet turtles die from being kept in inadequate conditions.

Many land, freshwater, and sea turtles are facing imminent threats to their survival because of other human activities. Turtles are substantially affected by habitat loss and the food and traditional medicine industries. Turtle species also suffer from the effects of pollution as well as from the destructive effects of industrial fishing operations.

Humans, especially young children and the elderly, are also put at risk by close contact with pet turtles. A major Salmonella outbreak in 2007 and 2008 that sickened 107 people, mostly children, in 34 states was attributed to pet turtles. A 4-week-old Florida infant died after her family was given a baby turtle illegally sold at a flea market. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that turtles be kept out of homes with children under the age of 5.

Despite the numerous threats to their survival, May is a busy month for turtles. Many have recently emerged from winter hibernation and are beginning their search for mates and nesting areas. May 23 was designated World Turtle Day in 2000 by American Tortoise Rescue to highlight the threats to the survival of turtles and tortoises and what we can do to protect these remarkable animals.

For more information on turtles, please visit humanesociety.org/animals/turtles_tortoises. If you suspect that you have witnessed illegal baby turtle sales, please contact The HSUS by e-mailing to babyturtles@humanesociety.org or contact your local health department.

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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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