Turtle Abuse

I recently came across the following post on RedEarSlider.com:
“When I was at the aquarium today, I was looking at the baby turtles, and I saw one that looked very sick and about to die, one of the employees took him and chucked him in the garbage still alive. What would you do?”

My response:

“Throwing it away is absolutely animal abuse. It’s the same as dumping puppies on the highway. I would skip calling the manager because they probably already know about it, otherwise the employee wouldn’t have done it in front of customers. I would call the local humane society and report the pet shop.

” There should be severe fines for this sort of thing. If it’s sick and they can’t afford a vet, euthanize the thing. Letting an animal suffer is completely immoral, regardless of your beliefs or religion. Allowing any creature to suffer to death (human or animal) just wrong, and all people know that. Euthanize it, or treat it, but don’t let it suffer.

Shockingly, most people do not consider turtle abuse a form of animal abuse because they subscribe to the idea that some species of animal are “higher” than others, and therefore have more value and more rights. Because of this, owner laziness and neglect is the most common form of abuse. This posting and various experiences with new turtle owners inspired me to write the following advice.

To Potential or New Turtle (terrapin) Owners

Do not purchase a turtle or take it out of the wild unless you are prepared for the expense and amount of care required. When you take an animal out of its natural environment, you are required to provide for it a synthetic habitat. You must provide everything the animal would naturally have in the wild. That entails a great deal of expense and effort.

Turtles are NOT cheap pets. Even their most basic requirements are expensive. Terrapins need ten gallons of water per inch of size. That means if your turtle is only a tiny three inches, he will require at 30 gallon tank. A new 30 gallon tank will cost upwards of $200. By the time the turtle reaches full-size (12 inches for females; 9 inches for males), he will require a 100 gallon tank. This can cost $400 used. Inadequate space will cause the turtle’s shell and bones to grow deformed. Additionally, the turtle must be able to get out of the water and be completely dry, or his shell will rot. There must be a basking area where the turtle can sit and be completely dry, and a basking ramp can cost anywhere from $10-30.

The turtle must have a UVA and a UVB light to bask under, which are found together in a Mercury Vapor Bulb costing $50-80. Additionally, the clamp lamps cost $15 apiece. These type of lighting provides calcium and other necessary vitamins. Without UVA, UVB, and heat, the turtle’s shell will not grow properly. Since the turtle’s internal organs are anchored to the wall of the shell (the shell is essentially an external ribcage), if the shell grows malformed, the turtle will eventually die of organ failure because his organs are stretched out or too cramped inside his shell. The turtle’s basking area must be a minimum of 90 degrees. A water heater is also required, and the temperature should be 78-80 degrees. Without proper heat, the turtle will develop pneumonia and essentially suffocate to death because the lungs will become filled with fluid.

The turtle must receive a wide variety of foods, not just turtle pellets. Store-bought turtle pellets should only comprise about 40% of the turtle’s diet. The turtle also needs weekly the following: green or red leaf lettuce, steamed sweet potato, steamed carrot, blueberries, apple, tomato, and most importantly cuttlebone. Turtles should receive pellets or shrimp only every other day and be offered vegetables daily, whether he ignores them or not. Additionally, a multivitamin/calcium powder should be dusted on all food to ensure that the turtle is getting proper nutrition.

Improper filtration will cause severe eye and skin irritation as the ammonia from waste builds up in the aquarium. A Wal-Mart brand filter for a 30 gallon tank costs $60. The filter required to move water in a 100 gallon tank costs a minimum of $100. On top of these basic habitat requirements, you will need to have on hand turtle eye drops (turtle’s eyes are very sensitive to light and water condition), water conditioner (to assure that there are no harmful chemicals or bacteria in the water), tank cleaning solution, a net for cleaning out ignored food scraps, and a tank thermometer.

All these things are found naturally in the wild, but when we take these animals out of such environments, I believe we are morally obligated to provide for the animal’s health. It costs a lot of time and effort to do this. If you are keeping your turtle in an inadequate environment, you are assuring him a slow death. Your turtle will die because of inadequate water, lighting, heat, poor diet, and space. He will not be able to grow properly in his current environment, and as a result, his bones and shell will grow incorrectly. His scutes (the plates on the shell) will not slough off properly, and retention of scutes will cause a condition known as “pyramiding.” This means that the unshed scutes stack on top of one another and the turtle’s shell develops pyramid-like protrusions instead of being flat and shiny. The turtle will die of organ failure (usually kidney failure) if the shell does not form properly because of incorrect lighting and space. If the turtle is not able to get totally out of the water, he will suffer from shell rot, which is essentially his body rotting from the outside in. If the water is not heated and there is no heat in the basking area, the turtle will get Respiratory Infection, or ‘turtle pneumonia’ and suffocate to death or drown as his lungs fill with fluid. The simple fact is, the turtle is going to suffer and be sick if one does not provide the proper environment for him.

My advice to turtle owner is either to learn about the proper environment and care for the turtle and fork over the money necessary to provide a proper habitat for him, or keep him another 6 months in a modified habitat to allow him to reach a larger size, then gradually wean him off of the turtle pellets by purchasing minnows he can hunt, and finally release him into the wild. It is animal cruelty (and should be punished by fines) to confine an animal and not provide for its needs.

This may sound like an overreaction, but I assure you, it is not. I have had my turtle for two years now, and anytime I have been lax in any aspect of his habitat, I can see a change in his health within a week. Because I didn’t know what I was doing in the beginning, I believe he has retained one or more scutes, which is completely unfair to him. He has often suffered from itchy eyes because I have been lazy in cleaning his tank or incorrectly positioned his lighting. I am surprised that he did not get pneumonia in his first few months with me because I had absolutely no heating element whatsoever. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to ask me. Or visit http://www.redearslider.com for basic care instructions and for help from forum members like myself.

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