Don’t kiss the turtles goodbye


    This weekend, at the fabulous Chili Cook-off, tiny green water turtles were given as prizes at one of the carnival booths. Parents and wildlife rescue people who know of our work at American Tortoise Rescue started phoning us about the tiny turtles early Sunday morning. We became alarmed because in the 1970s, a federal law prohibiting the sale of all turtles and tortoises under four inches was enacted to protect both the buyer and the turtle from harm. This law still stands but is poorly enacted.

    The sale, distribution and awarding of small turtles as prizes is illegal in all states because of the danger of a human contracting Salmonella from the turtle. Salmonella is a flu-like disease that generally infects the intestinal tract and occasionally the blood stream. Symptoms include mild to severe diarrhea, fever and occasionally vomiting. Symptoms generally appear one to three days after exposure. It is spread by contact with infected reptiles like turtles and iguanas. While most healthy adult owners show no symptoms of Salmonella even if they are infected, children under 5, pregnant women and the elderly as well as those whose immune systems are compromised such as those with AIDS or kidney transplants are at risk of serious illness or even death from Salmonella infection.

    Unfortunately by the time that we arrived at the carnival booth, most of the turtles had found their way into the hands and hearts of many families. We feel that it is our responsibility to educate parents and others who might have acquired the turtles about some basic precautions:

    • Wash your hands with hot, soapy water (preferably antibacterial soap) after handling the pet, its tank or accessories.
    • Wear gloves and face protection when cleaning a tank or changing the water.
    • Always supervise and minimize a child’s handling of a reptile.
    • House reptiles away from the kitchen, dining room and food preparation areas.
    • Keep other pets away from the reptiles, including their tanks and water bowls.
    • Do not eat, drink or smoke while handling the reptile or cleaning its environment.
    • If your reptile injures you, clean the wound thoroughly and consult a physician. Reptile injuries can become easily infected.
    • Do not kiss your turtle.

    American Tortoise Rescue warns parents not to panic and dump the turtle (which is also illegal and carries a steep fine). With proper precautions, your turtle can live a long happy life of 25 years or more. For a care sheet about taking care of your new turtle or more information, call us at 800.938.3553.

    American Tortoise Rescue