Voice of the turtles

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    It came to our attention this week that a tiny tortoise called a sulcata was being sold in our local pet store, Pet Headquarters. Federal law requires that no turtles or tortoises under 4 inches be sold. This one was about 2 inches. Since we are a nonprofit that rescues turtles and tortoises, as many of you in Malibu already know, we were concerned about the tiny tortoise. U.S. Fish & Wildlife, as well as California Fish & Game, rely on groups like ours to help them watch for problems like this.

    We informed the store’s Kevin Madden of the problem. Mr. Madden’s reaction was completely surprising. Unbelievably, he suggested that we should bend the law to suit his store. We explained that this law was to protect the tortoise and the children who might handle it. We gently tried to reach a compromise. Instead he became so enraged that he has barred us from the store. Should a person like Mr. Madden take care of animals? We think not. (By the way, this discussion took place on the phone, not in front of customers.)

    The pet trade vacuums turtles and tortoises out of the wild where they should be left to live their lives in peace, not in someone’s living room in a tank. Sulcatas, now being bred in captivity, are today’s “pet du jour.” They start out tiny and adorable, and end up over 100 pounds. Because they become unwieldy and poop like a German shepherd, we get calls from people who say that they can’t keep them anymore. In fact, we have seven that have come in since the first of the year. We are the ones who pick up the “leavings” of the pet trade. In the past eight years, we have taken in more than 900 turtles and tortoises that have come from people who don’t want them and from the pet trade (did you know that when box turtles get sick, some store owners throw them in dumpsters so they won’t have to pay for a vet!).

    So now we have nowhere to buy food for all our rescue turtles. If anyone can be a secret shopper and buy our food for us, please let us know — 800.938.3553.

    Susan Tellem

    Marshall Thompson,

    founders, American Tortoise Rescue

    Malibu