“Can I keep a pet turtle?”
We get asked this question a lot, especially during our Nature Discovery Trips, whenever we have a group of overly-excited children wanting to learn more about turtles, so that they could convince their parents to get them one.
Let’s focus on the red-eared sliders (RES) in this article because it is the most common species of pet turtle in the world. They’re found in almost every pet shop, in almost every country. They’re easily available, they’re small when you purchase them as hatchlings, and they’re cheap.
We DO NOT encourage anybody to keep RES as pets, and here are the main reasons why:
1. The turtle pet trade threatens native species. Millions of RES continue to be sold as hatchlings in the pet trade all over the world. Releasing your pet RES into the wild is a terrible idea, both to your RES and the native turtle population. The RES can infect local turtles with diseases or they may cause injuries through increased competition for resources. Zoos are also often reluctant to take them, because RES are known to be aggressive.
2. They need space, a lot of space. They require a decent-size space for them to swim around, and a basking area in the tank. It can be expensive to provide sufficient space in the form of a tank or aquarium!
3. They also require a lot of care. They need clean water, just like we need clean air. They need heat sources, that includes basking lights that mimic the sun, and a constant temperature of 24-30C. And they need a proper diet, see next point.
4. Red-eared sliders are omnivorous, they feed on sub-aquatic vegetation, fruits, aquatic invertebrates, fishes, and amphibians like frogs and newts. Do not think your pet RES can survive on pellets from a pet store. This is a death sentence. All turtles need a lot of fresh food.
5. They carry diseases. That is also why the United States federal law prohibits the sale/distribution of “live turtles with a carapace length of less than 4 inches.” Because they carry salmonella. You, or your children could get sick after touching the turtle or anything in their habitat/tank.
6. Once you buy a pet RES, they are not easy to re-home. Turtles are the most abandoned pet possibly because they are long-lived animals, compared to rabbits, cats, and dogs.
Are you prepared to care for your pet RES for a good 20, 30, even 40 years of your life?
Remember, whatever you do, do not release a pet RES into the wild. In fact, do not buy a pet turtle unless you have a plan for what to do with it when you no longer want it.