Animals

Why you shouldn’t keep a turtle as a pet

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a bundle of red-eared sliders clinging to a rock in a glass aquarium; A few paddle around the boulder heavily, sending concentric ripples. In this video taken in December 2019 at Aqua Exotic, a pet shop in Bengaluru’s Banashakari district, aquarium blogger Syed Shah says that the cost of each turtle is only R300. He reaches the tank, picks up one—the size of a small matchbox—and holds it between two fingers. The animal lunges helplessly and looks especially vulnerable in dim store lighting, making it hard to believe that the IUCN classifies this benign-looking turtle as one of the “world’s worst invasive alien species,” which can take over ecosystems and push species local. .

Over the past few years, red-eared sliders—native to the Mississippi River Basin in the United States—have been spotted in bodies of fresh water across India, including Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Gujarat and the northeastern states. Most often, they are released by people who bought them as pets, not much aware of the care that such wild animals need. in September , Hindus She reported that a single turtle was discovered in the Malankara Dam in Idukki district of Kerala state, alarming officials at the Kerala Forest Research Institute (KFRI), which is preparing a report proposing a ban on the trade in red-eared sliders. They also told pet owners who don’t want to keep their reptiles hand them over to KFRI rather than releasing them into bodies of water. “We have collected more than 150 tortoises so far,” said TV Sajeev, chief scientist at KFRI. hall.

according to smuggling report in india In the period 2019-20, the demand for exotic pets is steadily increasing; 7,685 red-eared sliders were seized in this period. That’s a big number, given the May 2021 paper, The Looming Exotic Reptile Pet Trade in India: Patterns and Knowledge Gaps, published in Endangered Species Magazine, notes that “until recently (2007), there were no records of the red-eared slider from India”.

There is still no real estimate of the number of these turtles imported, smuggled, or released into bodies of water or areas where they have begun to pose a threat to local ecosystems. The law on exotic pets is still a mystery. But environmentalists believe that people need to be aware of the risks of keeping them as pets — the ethics of removing reptiles from their natural habitat, the risk of infection, the cost of care — or releasing them into bodies of water. They also fear that turtles will end up playing a hostile role as cane toads in Australia, giant African snails in India, Burmese pythons and common carp in the United States.

Once they (red-eared sliders) settle in a habitat, they reproduce…. says Ajay Kartik, a wildlife biologist and herpetologist. “They tend to dominate these ecosystems and outnumber native species in these habitats.” They already pose a threat in 75 countries, according to a May 2021 paper.

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red-eared sliders, or Trachymis scripta elegans, is a subspecies of pond slider, a medium-sized semi-aquatic turtle that lives in freshwater bodies. The name comes from the red patch on the side of the head. Americans began taking them in in the early to mid-20th century, according to a December 2011 article in the Journal of Reptiles. Article in February 2020 in National Geographic It states that red-eared sliders are now the most popular turtle in the American pet trade, and are bred on an industrial scale.

In India, they are now listed as an upcoming reptile as part of the commercial trade in exotic reptiles. “Reptiles are one of the most widely traded groups of vertebrates,” states the May 2021 paper, adding that the import/export of undocumented species is clearly much higher than the reported numbers. Nearly 70 species of reptiles are circulated through Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram. Tamil Nadu (10%), Maharashtra (9.7%) and West Bengal (9.3) have the largest number of traders, the paper notes; Kerala, Delhi and Uttar Pradesh are not far behind.

An official from the Environment Department’s Wildlife Crime Bureau (WCCB), who does not wish to be named, details how the illegal trade operates. He says most of these turtles are raised in China and transported to India via Sri Lanka or Malaysia. The official adds that Chennai has become a major transit point for wildlife trafficking, bypassing the licensing, quarantine, etc. requirements imposed by the legal route.

Kartik remembers seeing shipments of exotic animals, including these turtles, seized by customs or WCCB officials as they were smuggled in bottles or bags with fake bottoms. “They arrive in the country in a terrible situation,” he says; The mortality rate is high. “By the time they reach a facility that can take care of them, they are either gone or dead midway when they arrive.”

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Once they enter the country, they are sent to pet dealers and retailers, a WCCB official says, adding that they are being sold for as little as R250-300 turtles. “These creatures have become one of the most common pets you can buy” — somewhat like a lovebird or a parrot, says Kartik. Usually sold as babies smaller than the palm of the hand, they grow quickly: an adult female can reach 12 inches. This is where the problems begin. “Even with poor or moderate care, these turtles grow very quickly in the first five or six years of their lives,” Kartik says, adding that most people aren’t ready for the work that this entails. “You will have to keep changing their housing to take into account this rapid growth rate,” he adds.

In addition, turtles live for a relatively long time – often 20-30 years – something that many pet owners are not prepared for. Therefore, they often do what they think is humane: release their pet into the nearest water body, where it competes with native species for food, water, nesting space and sunlight.

The disease is a very real danger. Like many reptiles, these turtles can carry the infectious salmonella bacteria in their digestive tract, skin, and shell. “It can cause diseases in domestic turtles and the humans who keep these turtles as pets,” says Sneha Darawadkar, herpetologist and one of the founders of FTTI (Turtles and Freshwater Turtles of India). There have been multiple records of this infection among turtle owners and their children in the United States; Infants and young children died of infection when they playfully put turtles in their mouths.

Therefore, experts advise to exercise caution before keeping one as a pet. “There is no law that prevents a person from keeping a non-domestic wild animal as a pet,” Kartik says. But caring for a wild animal requires an understanding of the animal’s history and behavior in the wild, and raising it often requires more time, money and knowledge than the average pet owner, Drawadkar believes, adding that pet turtles suffer from severe nutritional deficiencies or disease.

Covid-19, which originated in wet markets in China, could be a breeding ground for zoonotic diseases, one reason why authorities are now trying to exert greater control over the exotic wildlife market. In June 2020, the union’s Ministry of Environment announced a voluntary disclosure scheme for exotic animal owners. By February 2021, it had received 32,645 applications from 25 states and five union territories, according to a March 2021 report on India’s spending.

This may be a start, but it is not enough. Sajeev believes the immediate focus should be on two things: trying to stop the trade in red-eared sliders and surveying and removing freshwater sites. The most important change depends on the people. “The wildlife trade is a demand-driven business,” says Darawadkar, adding that unless people stop buying turtles, or any truly wild animal, they won’t. She asserts, “Although you are legally allowed to keep an exotic animal that is not from your country, you are still unethical.” “You take a wild animal out of its natural habitat; you support the wildlife trade and you wipe out an animal a life it was never meant to live.”

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