Free and Wild - Turtles Returned to the Wild

As I've mentioned elsewhere, the vast majority of the turtles I find are simply moved to the other side of the road and set loose to continue their journey.  Often, however, the situation they are found in precludes such an easy solution.  These turtles are held for a short time until they can be released.   One of my favorite spots is the small plot of land Bill Thompson III, editor of Bird Watchers Digest, and his wife, wildlife artist Julie Zickefoose, have in rural Washington County, where all things natural are welcome and protected.  Already (October, 1996), I have released 3 turtles there.  These include Gauchere and two other lucky turtles.  They were joined by Naraht and Karl in the spring of 1997, and Linda in 2000.

Unfortunately, releasing turtles back to the wild anywhere other than the place they came from is probably not a good idea.  Recently, several readers of these web pages have written me asking if I could arrange for the release of their captive turtles.  Growing scientific and anecdotal evidence suggests that releasing turtles into different populations can be deadly to those populations.  Even apparently healthy turtles can harbor diseases and parasites that other populations of turtles might not have a defense against.  Remember what happened to Native Americans after Columbus arrived?  If you find a turtle in the road, the best thing you can do by far is move it to the side it was heading.  That's what I do exclusively, now. Even if the surrounding area seems built up, there might be plenty of habitat for a turtle, and they can do quite well in suburbia if left alone.  At worst, the animal will continue to migrate out of the problem area.  It won't go far enough to threaten unexposed populations with a new disease.  If you feel you must pick it up, be aware that you are committing to care for it for the rest of its life - which could be 50 years or so.  Several people have asked if I could take care of a turtle they had found.  Reluctantly, I must answer no - I just don't have the room, and caring for the turtles occupies a lot of time.  As I've said above, I will release most of my turtles this summer, and I wouldn't do that if I hadn't already put that native population at risk with earlier releases.

What's the long-term solution to box turtle decline?  Stop keeping them as pets, build fewer roads and more mass transit, stop urban sprawl, buy a piece of good habitat and protect it from development.  

Eric was released in May, 1997.

Karl was released in May, 1997.

Naraht was released in May, 1997.

Linda was released in May, 2000.

Carol Karl Linus Linda Terry

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Updated 3/23/97