The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is asking pet owners to find “forever homes” for unwanted turtles and other pets. A forever home means an appropriate environment where the animal will be cared for the rest of its life.
The global trade in wildlife has resulted in a wide variety of animal species being bought and sold for pets at local shops and online. One of the most common pet-trade turtles is the Red-eared Slider turtle (Trachemys scripta elegans) – a non-native species in Minnesota. Recently, released and escaped Red-eared Sliders have been documented successfully spending the winter in Minnesota waters.
“Red-eared Sliders are not native to Minnesota,” said Christopher Smith, DNR nongame wildlife biologist. “They may compete with our native turtles, including the state listed Blanding’s turtle, for resources such as food, nesting sites and optimal basking areas.
“Red-eared Sliders are often purchased as cute little hatchling turtles, but they grow quickly in captivity and eventually require a large space to roam - a challenge during Minnesota’s winter months,” Smith said. “People want to do right by the turtle and decide to set it free; however, animals maintained in captivity should not be released back into the wild.”
Unwanted animals should be gifted to educators to use in their classroom(s), or to naturalists at regional or state parks. Alternatively, animals could be given to local humane or nonprofit societies (e.g., Minnesota Herpetological Society, www.mnherpsoc.org/. If people have difficulties placing unwanted animals, they should contact the appropriate regional nongame wildlife specialist, www.dnr.state.mn.us/eco/nongame/index.html.
People shouldn’t release animals (even native species) that have been maintained in captivity. Disease and invasive species are significant problems facing wild animals. Animals may appear healthy while cared for in captivity but can harbor disease or parasites that would be fatal to that animal if returned to the wild, or it could put a wild population at significant risk. The risk of spreading disease to wild animal populations far out-weighs the benefit of releasing one or two animals into the wild.
Moving native species and releasing captive animals is detrimental to their quality of life. These animals often attempt to migrate back to their former home range (in the case of relocated native species) which often involves crossing busy roads. Released turtles may also fail to find and capture food in the wild.