On a bizarre human impulse to move stuff around…   Leave a comment

I’ve given several talks to the public and to interested groups of people over the past few months about turtle conservation, and there’s a recurring theme that really interests, puzzles, frustrates and fascinates me. Here’s how it goes: I speak with a group of people about turtles. The group is usually interested before I even start. By the end, they’ve learned some things about turtles. They want to help. Afterwards, we chat and people share their stories of turtle encounters – and here’s the story that keeps coming up. It’s always a variation on this: “Once, we (my family, friends, uncle, etc). were driving along [some highway in Ontario somewhere] and we found [Painted, Snapping, Spotted, Blandings] turtle on the side of the road. So we took it home.”

OK – so firstly, what is it about us humans that makes this such a common response to meeting a turtle at the side of the road?

Then the story continues with something like this: “then it lived in [an aquarium/our bathtub/our swimming pool] for a while, and then we let it go.” The real theme here is that nearly all of these stories have ended with the turtle being released somewhere other than where it was originally found, usually because whoever took it couldn’t remember exactly where they found it, or it was too far away to be convenient.

Obviously this is not only illegal, but more importantly, it is not likely to work out well for the turtles involved. They end up in sub-standard captive conditions for a while (despite everyone’s best intentions, swimming pools are not a suitable habitat for a freshwater turtle) and then they get dumped somewhere they’ve probably never seen before, where their chances of survival are much lower than in their own home range. So it’s not a good situation. But although I’d like to come back to this problem later, it’s not actually the point of this post.

What I want to know is, why we do this? Why are we apparently programmed to move turtles around? I haven’t spoken to THAT many people, and even with a small sample size this story (with all its variations) just keeps coming up. For some reason, we not only tend to pick up turtles we find, we also move them around a lot. I wonder how many turtles get moved around Ontario each year?

— Christina Davy


Posted October 19, 2011 by thinkingturtles in Uncategorized

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