Even more alarming, World Animal Protection’s year-long investigation into reptile expos found multiple instances of what appeared to be illegal sales of tiny turtles—sales that have banned in the US for more than four decades.
As COVID-19 spread across the US, reptile expos started back up as early as spring 2020 while many other businesses went into lockdown. Though the pandemic highlighted the connection between human exploitation of wildlife and zoonotic disease, it was business as usual at many expos where hundreds of reptiles are crowded into small containers and cages for display and purchase.
Even more alarming, World Animal Protection’s year-long investigation into reptile expos found multiple instances of what appeared to be illegal sales of tiny turtles — sales that have been banned in the US for more than four decades.
World Animal Protection investigators also found evidence of tiny turtles for sale at the nation’s biggest reptile expos: Repticon, HERPS, and Cold Blooded Expos. In two instances, the sellers confirmed that the turtles’ shells were roughly 2.5 inches.
Ignoring Public Health Guidelines
In addition to tiny turtle sales, our investigation revealed a disregard for public health protocols designed to prevent future disease outbreaks. Specifically, our investigators found:
vendors consistently failed to encourage the use of antibacterial soap;
animals were overcrowded in displays;
housing for animals was not appropriate;
lack of safety signage warning patrons about the importance of washing hands and the dangers posed to children and the immunocompromised, and
Finally, our investigators witnessed children being encouraged to touch reptiles.
Animal Welfare Ignored
Beyond the public health issues, these expos exist to promote reptiles as pets. These animals are a lifetime commitment and require specialized care such as heat lamps, water heaters, and special enclosures. The African Spurred Tortoise, sold at Repticon and Cold Blooded Expos, live for more than 70 years and grow to more than two feet long—much more work than what a casual buyer at an expo expects when they see a small turtle for sale. People purchase these animals and then abandon them to shelters or the outdoors where they are killed or harm native wildlife.
Reptile expos threaten public health and hurt animals. While World Animal Protection continues to campaign for an end to the wildlife trade, the enforcement of existing laws designed to protect children is the bare minimum we can expect. We urge the FDA and CDC to work together and tackle this issue once and for all.