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August 21, 2014

Moviegoers and Lawmakers Urged to Protect Turtles

Humane Society International

  • Heather Fone/The HSUS

With the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film set to hit cinema screens across Europe, Humane Society International warns against keeping turtles as pets and issues a call for the inclusion of various turtle species on the forthcoming list of invasive alien species of Union concern.  In the 1980s, the popularity of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles led to a major craze for keeping turtles, a fad that came at a great cost to the turtles’ welfare and the EU’s biodiversity.

HSI’s EU Director Joanna Swabe says:

“With a new generation of kids being exposed to the on-screen antics of Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo and Donatello, history has a great risk of repeating itself with turtles once again becoming the ‘in-thing’. However, turtles are not toys that can be discarded when the next fad comes along; these exotic reptiles require long-term specialised care and can pose a significant threat to biodiversity if released into an environment to which they do not belong.

The imminent EU invasive alien species legislation provides a golden opportunity to comprehensively ban the trade in species, such as the red-eared terrapin and painted turtle, which have both been deemed to be invasive. We strongly urge that these two species – and any species in the same taxonomic group that pose a similar risk - be swiftly added to the list of invasive alien species of Union concern that will be decided once the Regulation enters into force.”    

As with most fads, people who acquired turtles as pets during the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles craze eventually grew tired of them, particularly when the cute baby turtles grew into large and less-endearing adults. Untold thousands of these exotic reptiles suffered and perished due to inadequate care, or were dumped at zoos and animal shelters, or simply released into public waterways and ponds. Some species were able to survive and have gone on to become invasive—significantly impacting biodiversity.

Due to the ecological problems caused by abandonment of pet turtles, in 1997 the EU decided to list the most widely traded turtle species, the red-eared terrapin (Trachemys scripta elegans), on Annex B of the EU Wildlife Trade Regulations. Under the terms of this legislation the EU also suspended imports of a second species, the painted turtle (Chrysemys picta), after this species was also found to have the capacity to become invasive. Notably, the painted turtle had become popular in trade as a replacement for red-eared terrapins.

While the listing of these two species effectively banned their import into the EU, it sadly did not restrict the sale, keeping, breeding, transport or intentional release of the species. HSI believes that transferring both the red-eared terrapin and painted turtle from the Wildlife Trade Regulations to the EU list of invasive alien species of Union concern will finally ensure a comprehensive trade ban in this species.

HSI has also lobbied for the EU invasive alien species legislation to include taxonomic groups of species into the list of invasive alien species of Union concern. This is vital to prevent the exotic pet trade from switching to other closely related, but unlisted species, which is exactly what happened when imports of red-eared terrapins were suspended. The trade simply shifted to importing a sub-species, the yellow-bellied terrapin (Trachemys scripta scripta), which has similar ecological requirements and poses a potential threat to biodiversity.


  • In April 2014, the European Parliament adopted the text of the proposed EU Regulation on the prevention and management of the introduction and spread of invasive alien species as agreed in the First Reading Agreement negotiation with the Council of the European Union. The Council is expected to formally adopt this legislation in October.
  • Pet turtles are often forced to live in dimly lit and deficient and tiny tanks and denied adequate nutrition. This treatment results in malformed shells, salmonella-laced sludge, and vitamin/mineral deficiencies. People often release pet turtles into public parks and waterways or abandon them at zoos and wildlife centres when they get tired of them. Unable to adjust to local temperatures and find food, many die slow, miserable deaths. When they survive, they may reproduce, become invasive and can carry pathogens into the ecosystems in which they were released.

Media contact: Raúl Arce-Contreras: rcontreras@humanesociety.org, +1 301-721-6440   

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