Before you Adopt
Info Sheets : Exotics : Turtles
Lesson about exotic pets: based on a true story - Linda and the Turtles
a sophomore in high school in New York City. Linda loved all
of animals, but she and her mom lived in a tiny apartment
and weren't allowed to have dogs or cats. For years Linda
loved turtles in particular. She had turtle earrings, turtle
stickers, a collection of turtle stuffed animals, and a big
turtle poster on her wall. In her art class she drew and painted
turtles. But most of all she wanted a real turtle for her
and pleaded with her mom to get a turtle. Many of her classmates
had already bought pet turtles downtown and Linda wanted one
too. But her
mom told her that the turtles sold in Chinatown were wild
turtles that had
been caught in tropical parts of the world. It's wrong, her
mom told her, to
catch wild animals and keep them in fish tanks. Plus, a lot
of the turtles die while being shipped here. If people keep
catching the turtles they might become endangered.
old enough to understand this, and she certainly didn't want
hurt any turtles. So she accepted her mom's decision.
day Linda's best friend told her about two turtles that another
in the school was giving away. His dad doesn't want him to
Linda's friend Mary said, and now the dad is threatening to
flush the turtles down the toilet. You've got to take these
turtles, Mary urged, if you don't take care of them Linda,
they're going to die.
school Linda and Mary followed the boy Anthony back to his
apartment building and waited in the lobby while he carried
down the fish tank with two turtles in it, the special heat
lamp for the turtles, and a box of food. The two turtles were
hiding inside their shells and Linda loved them the minute
she saw them. They were green and brown, with just a little
bit of yellow here and there on their shells.
told Linda that he was very sad to give up the turtles but
complained that their tank took up too much space and that
the turtles smelled.
guess I didn't clean the tank as much as I should have,"
admitted, " I'd probably have to clean it twice a week.
I'm just too busy
for that. "
so excited that she thought she wouldn't mind cleaning the
Linda carry everything home and they set up the turtles' tank
in the living room. When Linda's mom got home she was pretty
angry, because Linda had disobeyed her. Still, Linda's mom
loved animals too, and pretty soon she agreed that Linda couldn't
have let the turtles be flushed down the toilet.
from Part One:
require a lot of care. They need to be fed and given fresh
water every day. Their tanks must be cleaned frequently
in order to prevent odors and illness.
turtles are trapped in the wild and then sold as pets. This
is bad for the turtles and for the environment.
weekend Linda and her mom went out and bought a book about
and lots of fresh fruits and vegetables for them to eat. Linda
felt that she would never get tired of watching her turtles.
They were so shy, but also curious. They loved to eat strawberries.
Linda also thought that the turtles loved each other because
they sat so close together, they touched their necks and feet
to each other, and they never fought over food. Before this
Linda hadn't known that turtles needed company.
to think that Zack and Zelda, as she had named the turtles,
more room. She took the money she had saved up from baby-sitting
a bigger fish tank. Some evenings she and her mom let the
turtles explore the kitchen. They put lettuce leaves and chunks
of tomato around for Zack and Zelda to find.
morning though, Linda noticed that Zack seemed kind of wobbly,
like he was having trouble walking. Then that afternoon Zelda
didn't eat any of her grapes. Linda told her mother that they
must be sick. They spent a couple of hours calling around
to emergency veterinary clinics until they found one that
said they could help the turtles.
morning they took Zack and Zelda to the vet. They had to wait
in the lobby while the vet examined the turtles in the back.
Finally the vet called them into an examination room to talk
turtles are really sick," the grey-haired vet said, "They
haven't been getting the right kind of light or food. This
has caused them to feel tired, to loose their balance sometimes,
and worst of all, it's made their shells soft."
to cry. She felt horrible. She really loved her turtles and
had wanted to make things better for them, not hurt them.
have a heat lamp," her mom argued, "and we give
them turtle food and
lots of fresh fruits and vegetables."
know," the vet said, sadly shaking his head, "unfortunately,
a lot of heat lamps don't provide the right kind of light.
The best kind of light for turtles is sunlight, which gives
them vitamin D. Only the best, most expensive lights can do
he continued, "these turtles, in their natural environment,
eat a lot of algae and the turtle food sold at most stores
doesn't contain the same nutrients."
they going to live?" Linda asked, wiping her nose and
can help them right now," the vet reassured her, "by
giving them some
vitamins and keeping them in the back of the clinic for a
few days under a
good light. But the treatment for them is going to cost some
money. And I'm
not sure there is much you can do to keep them from getting
should we do?" Linda's mom asked.
took a little book out of his pocket and thumbed through it.
"If I were you," he told them, as he wrote something
on a scrap of paper, "I'd take the turtles to a turtle
sanctuary. There they'll get the right kind of light, the
right kind of algae, and there are people there who know a
lot about turtles and how to help them."
handed them the piece of paper with the name of the sanctuary
the phone number written on it.
from Part Two:
are curious, active creatures who need lots of space.
need the company of other turtles and form bonded relationships
with each other.
care is very complicated. Turtles need heat lamps and special
lamps. Turtles need special foods depending on their species.
rest of the weekend while Zack and Zelda stayed with the vet,
and her mom thought about the sanctuary. Linda hated the thought
up her turtles, but she also wanted them to be healthy and
her mom said, "Maybe we can take them out there, and
if it looks like a nice
place we'll leave them there. But if we don't like it, we'll
just say we changed our minds, and we'll bring Zack and Zelda
the sanctuary and made an appointment to bring the turtles
They had to get a certificate from the vet saying that Zack
and Zelda didn't
have any diseases the other turtles could catch. Luckily,
Zack and Zelda were disease-free and the vet gave Linda's
mom the certificate when they picked the turtles up. The vet
bill was pretty high, but Linda's mom paid it, saying she
was glad this was just a one-time thing.
On a bright
and sunny Saturday morning Linda and her mom drove out to
sanctuary. They were surprised that it was such a nice place;
it had lots of
little gardens and pools for the turtles. Some of the habitats
were outside, for turtles native to New York. Other turtles
lived inside greenhouse-like buildings that kept them warm
in the winter. There were so many different kinds of turtles
there, every shape and color, huge turtles and little tiny
at the sanctuary was very busy. There was a vet, administering
vitamins and treatments to sick turtles. Volunteers were feeding
and cleaning out the pools. One young woman, who introduced
herself as Gloria, took Zack and Zelda to their new home.
She set them down beside a pool and immediately the turtles
dove in and swam to a rock in the center. They climbed up
onto the rock and began sunning themselves. There were other
turtles that looked just like Zack and Zelda on the rock already,
but Linda still knew which ones had been her turtles.
to cry a little, partly because she was so sad to leave her
turtles, and partly because she hadn't even known before that
they could swim. She asked Gloria if she could come back and
visit them sometime.
course," Gloria told her, "If you'd like you can
even help take care of the turtles here. We have an internship
program for high school students during summer vacation."
they left Gloria put together a big folder of information
for Linda and her mom. At home they read all of the pamphlets
and Linda decided she really did want to be a turtle intern
that summer. She sent them the forms to apply for the internship
and arranged to go help out two days a week.
up getting extra credit in science at her high school for
participating in the summer internship, but she says she would
have done it anyway, because she loved all the turtles so
much. True, sometimes she had to do boring jobs like washing
dishes or folding towels, but she also got to help feed the
were friendly and would come over to see her when she went
their enclosures. Some even would take slices of fruits or
vegetables from her hands. Some turtles were shy, but she
still loved to watch them as they ate. Some of the turtles
also ate insects, and some needed to take vitamins that were
mixed in with their turtle food. She learned the names of
all the different kinds of turtles who lived at the sanctuary,
what part of the world they were from, what they ate, and
what they liked to do. She got to visit with Zack and Zelda
and was glad to see that they were very happy and comfortable
in their new home.
the end of the summer she even helped with two turtles who
was moving into the sanctuary. Joseph and Jeanette were giant
tortoises who had
lived in a petting zoo, giving rides to little children. One
day Joseph didn't
feel well and wouldn't walk around when petting zoo worker
put a little boy
onto his back. The trainer yelled at Joseph, and still he
just didn't have the energy to move. Then the trainer picked
up a stick and hit Joseph on his head. Joseph retreated back
into his shell and the little boy on his back began to scream.
The mother, who saw everything, reported the trainer to the
police for animal cruelty. In the end the tortoises were released
to the sanctuary.
lead Joseph and Jeanette into their new home by holding a
of strawberries in front of them. Once they were safely inside
their new habitat, the two giant turtles got to eat the strawberries.
Linda reached out to touch Joseph's leathery head and was
surprised that he didn't pull away. She began to pet him,
rubbing his head and neck. Joseph loved it and stretched his
neck way out. Linda never knew before that any turtles liked
to be petted. She was glad that after such a hard life Joseph
and Jeanette would get to live in such a nice place.
from Part Three:
found a way to be around turtles and learn about turtles
keeping one in her apartment. By volunteering Linda got
to feel good about
herself for helping turtles in need, and it helped her in
school as well.
are individuals with their own personalities and preferences.
In the sanctuary the turtles were allowed to be themselves
and live the way they wanted to live.
need both warming lamps and special UV lamps designed for
species of reptiles have different food needs. If you are
for a reptile it is vital that you learn what species your
pet is and what
exactly his or her nutritional needs are.
don't like to be confined to small spaces any more than
you would, or your cat or dog would. They need enough room
to stretch out and exercise.
trade in reptiles captured from the wild is depleting their
their natural habitats. This can have a devastating effect
on world ecosystems.
reptiles appear to be very different from humans they still
experience emotions and are able to suffer. Many reptiles
need the companionship of others of their own species and
become lonely and bored when they are isolated.
reptiles are vertebrates they feel pain in the same way
humans do, through a complex network of nerves. For this
reason it is wrong to strike, hurt, or starve a reptile.
In most parts of the United States purposefully hurting
a reptile is punishable by law.
bringing a reptile into your home consider the cost of caring
an exotic pet. Veterinary care for reptiles can be very
need special, costly equipment, and very specific foods.
Do not get a reptile if you feel you cannot provide all
of these things.
need veterinary care just like any other animal, but it
is hard to find a vet who treats reptiles. Research vets
in your area, or get a recommendation from a local rescue
group. Be sure to go to vet with lots of reptile experience.
- If you
are considering getting a reptile as a companion animals,
check your local shelters and animal rescue groups. Many
have tame reptiles desperate for good homes.
Story by Neva Davis