red eared slider turtle

Four Reasons Turtles Belong in the Wild, Not in Our Homes



With their (usually) gentle natures and striking features, turtles are understandably popular animals. But turtles can’t thrive in a human home and should never be purchased as a “pet.”

Many of us fell in love with turtles as children. Their sweet faces and mild dispositions (for some species!) make them popular with kids and adults alike. Unfortunately, the media and big box pet stores like Petco and PetSmart actively push the message that turtles are great companions for humans. But turtles are wild animals who can only fully thrive in their natural habitats.

Here are four reasons why turtles should stay in the wild:

1. Turtles are wild animals with complex needs

Like all wild animals, turtles evolved to flourish in their native habitats. They must be able to explore, swim, and live among their peers in order to be physically and psychologically healthy. It’s not possible to replicate these conditions in a human home. Instead, turtles are usually relegated to tanks that are only a fraction of the size of their wild home. A heat lamp is no replacement for the warmth of the sun.


2. Turtles have long lifespans…leading many to be abandoned or relinquished

Turtles’ lifespans vary by species, but many can live for several decades, with others living closer to 100 years. People who purchase turtles impulsively are usually unprepared for the lifetime commitment. A turtle purchased for a child will need years of care long after that child leaves home.

As a result, many turtles are sadly relinquished to shelters that must divert limited resources to find an appropriate placement for them. Other turtles are abandoned outdoors where they may be killed, starve to death, or threaten the local ecosystem by competing with native species for food and resources.

3. Turtles are a health risk—especially to children

Children are vulnerable to illness and infection when they handle or interact with turtles. Reptiles and amphibians are a common source of Salmonella infection in humans. The bacteria exists in the digestive tracts of healthy animals but when it gets passed to humans, it can cause illness and death. Children, pregnant and immuno-compromised persons, and seniors are particularly prone to severe illness. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cautions that families with children under the age of five should not keep reptiles and amphibians in their homes.

red-eared slider turtles in a cage

4. Most turtles sold in stores come from cruel mills

By purchasing a turtle, you’re inadvertently supporting the cruel commercial breeding industry. Birds, reptiles, amphibians, and small mammals like guinea pigs are generally bred in large commercial facilities called “mills.” Animals in mills receive inadequate veterinary care (or none at all), live in stressful, unsanitary conditions, and are usually denied any social enrichment.

There are no federal laws protecting turtles in mills. While the Animal Welfare Act provides minimal protections for some animals (like puppies) in mills, it excludes reptiles and amphibians. This leaves turtles vulnerable to abuse and neglect.

Skip the pet store and check out your local nature centers to learn about the turtles living in your community instead. Depending on where you live, it’s likely you’ll be able to observe turtles in the wild. If you’re passionate about protecting turtles, you can also join our campaign urging PetSmart and Petco to stop selling animals. We’re working to create a future where every turtle lives in the wild.

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