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An Urban Turtle Does Not a Pet Make

After tending to some long overdue yard work last week, I went about removing a large pile of clipped branches when much to my surprise, I found that three little reptilian friends had found solise under my pile of yard scraps! Two of those were some black rough earth snakes, a non-venomous Florida native. One slithered off and the other I picked to go show my daughter who thought it was “cool”. My third little friend was an itty bitty baby eastern box turtle no bigger than a large strawberry. I was so caught off guard! Our house is located in an urban neighborhood in ear shot from Monroe St. and my immediate reaction was: “He doesn’t belong here! I have to save him!” I daintily picked up the little guy and put him into a cardboard box with grass clippings and fresh cut fruit bits until I could further read what to do.

It was only after doing a little research that I discovered while my reaction was natural, I was in the wrong - the best thing I could have done was nothing at all. According to St. Francis Wildlife Association, if you see a wild turtle in your yard that is clearly not harmed, leave it be. Box turtles are native to urban environments and like rabbits, fox and other urban wildlife, they are fit to survive in their environments. My initial thought was that I would relocate him but that could have negative consequences. Animals from different areas carry bacteria native to their environment. Relocating a wild animal to a non-native area runs the risk of introducing a bacteria that could bring great harm to other flora and fauna. Or vice versa. A relocated animal might not have the natural defenses to fight any bacteria in the environment they are relocated to.

The worst thing one could do is keep a wild caught turtle, baby or otherwise, as a pet. Being that we are humans and not turtles, we cannot provide for a wild turtle’s needs in the way that is best for that turtle. Wild animals are best left in the wild. Putting a wild born turtle into captivity can easily stress them out and lower their quality of life. Turtles are also natural carriers of salmonella and this bacteria can lead to illness if an adult or child handles a turtle and fails to wash their hands.

Another consequence of keeping a wild animal is that by attempting to raise it, that person is  denying the animal the skills and experiences it needs to live and survive in the wild. Box turtles can live to be 120 years old - few domestic pets require that kind of commitment! If it has been kept in captivity, a turtle will not learn how to find its own food or to survive in the wild, thus making release impossible. As St. Francis Wildlife Association says, wild animals were born in the wild and they belong in the wild.

There are cases in which one should intervene. If the turtle is bleeding or if their shell has been cracked, St. Francis is the place to call at 850-527-4151 and they can provide the veterinary care needed. If a turtle is crossing the street, you can aid it’s safe passage by removing it from the road and placing it safely on the other side, in the direction in which it was moving. Find a wild animal of a different scale or feather? Check out St. Francis' guidelines on helping wild animals here.

Next time you see a little turtle friend exploring your yard, ooh and aah to your heart’s content but leave him or her be so they can live a full life out in the wild, where they belong.

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