header image

[Sign Up Now] to Receive Our FREE Daily SCVTV-SCVNews Digest by E-Mail

Inside
Weather
Santa Clarita CA
Mostly cloudy
Mostly cloudy
53°F
 
Calendar
Today in
S.C.V. History
January 19
1967 - Original airing of Star Trek "Arena" Episode: Kirk battles the Gorn commander (Saugus resident Bobby Clark) at Vasquez Rocks [watch]
Kirk vs. Gorn commander


abigaildesesaThe pet population problem is not a new subject. We are all aware there are too many dogs and cats in shelters and rescues. Too many roam neighborhoods without safe and caring homes, but these dogs and cats are not the only pets that are filling up our rescues.

Now we have turtles and tortoises appearing in our shelters on a regular basis, at times in great numbers. Here are the top three flooding our rescues and shelters:

First, there is the aquatic red ear slider, which is best known from the blockbuster movies, “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.” This is not a native aquatic turtle to our state (it’s imported primarily from Louisiana) and has been released into our local ponds and waterways for the past few decades by pet owners in increasing numbers.

The problem is twofold. California has its own native aquatic turtle that is listed on the Endangered Species list – the Western pond turtle. The red ear slider turtle is an aggressive, fast-growing turtle that is taking over the natural territory of our own more docile, endangered turtle.

When people buy these red ear slider turtles, often as tiny babies in tiny tanks, they quickly outgrow the small tanks. Our local rescues and shelters are bombarded with these turtles being turned in nonstop. The public is giving them up once they discover they do not stay small – even in those tiny tanks. Rescues have no more homes.

The writer's son Chis with a 200-pound sulcata.

The writer’s son Chis with a 200-pound sulcata.

For an idea of how great some of these numbers are from one rescue alone, see the California Turtle and Tortoise Club’s annual adoption statistics reports here –  http://www.tortoise.org/cttc/adoption.html – listed by year at the top of the page. For example, in 2011, there were 1,137, and in 2012, there were 1,056 red ear sliders taken in by the reporting chapters. That is only one kind of turtle or tortoise they deal with.

The second, quickly growing “giant” problem is the extremely fast-growing African sulcata tortoise, aka suburban time bombs. This tortoise has frequently been referred to as the latest disposable designer pet. Sulcatas are from the sub-Saharan regions of Africa and are the largest continental tortoises on the planet, often reaching the hefty size of 200 pounds. One female can easily reproduce 120 new hatchlings per year in captivity.

Sulcatas have a great success rate when bred and incubated here in the United States. In our local climate, many just walk right out of the ground, never needing to be incubated.

It is becoming common to see these tortoises turned into rescues once they reach an early age of 5 to 6 years old. Our animal shelters are not designed to hold these tortoises. Some male sulcata tortoises can already be pushing 40 pounds. If a shelter cannot properly hold a 40-pound sulcata tortoise, what do you think they are going to do with, say, a 150-pound tortoise?

The big deal about this tortoise is that they are highly destructive, as they do not walk around things. They go through and over and are known for digging long, large burrows underground, undermining suburban homes and driveways. They are strong and have become hard to contain because they need a large, reinforced habitat, which your average tract house simply does not have. The sulcata also needs to be kept warm, which runs up some good-sized electric bills.

Many of the sulcata tortoises that are turned in have experienced poor diet and improper housing from a lack of education, leading rescues to deal with health problems and pay for medical care. Rescues are trying to help educate the general public that this is not a good tract-housing backyard pet. It will get too large, too destructive, and it can outlive you. If you think a veterinarian bill for a dog or cat can be costly, wait until you see one for a reptile specialist.

Tripod the desert tortoise, a California Turtle and Tortoise Club rescue. Photo: Karen Berry

Tripod the desert tortoise, a California Turtle and Tortoise Club rescue. Photo: Karen Berry

The sulcata tortoise has reached numbers that have put authorities in many states in a tailspin. Some states are contemplating euthanizing these majestic bulldozers. There is legislation being proposed in other states to ban them and make them illegal to have all together, for everyone.

People have filled up rescues and shelters with sulcatas. Worse, they are escaping, or people are now releasing them into the wild in the United States. This endangers our next tortoise on the list:

The last one on the top-three list might surprise you. It is our own endangered native North American desert tortoise.

How can an endangered tortoise be a pet problem? Through illegal breeding of a long-living animal and many decades of taking them out of the wild. This tortoise is far from endangered in captivity.

Today, according to the Department of Fish and Wildlife, it is illegal to breed captive desert tortoises. The California Turtle and Tortoise Club is contracted to provide permits to people who do house the desert tortoise legally. The permit is free and required, but more often than not, people still do not obtain one. Even if a person has a permit, it is clearly spelled out on the back of the permit that they are not permitted to breed this tortoise.

Animal shelters are frowned upon when they receive this kind of tortoise because when they allow an animal to be adopted, there is a set fee. It is illegal to have a mandatory exchange of money for an endangered species.

This is a quick summary of what is not allowed: It is illegal to have a desert tortoise without a permit; to give or transfer it to another person; to move without obtaining a new permit; to take it out of the state; to sell it; to breed it; to release it back into the wild; and to take it out of the wild.

Many people don’t know why some of these rules exist, but many are vital. Obviously the reason to stop breeding them in captivity is the same as the first two: There are no more homes. The reason for not allowing them to be taken out of the wild is the simple fact that the wild population has drastically declined.

The one many don’t understand is not being allowed to release them back into the wild to help the wild population. The reason is because it does the exact opposite. Captive desert tortoises carry a highly contagious disease that infects the wild population and kills them off in massive numbers. It would often kill the captive tortoise, but many receive veterinarian care for this problem. They are never cured, but they are stabilized, allowing the majority to live a comfortable and long life. Some captive tortoises are only carriers and never suffer from the symptoms. One simple reason a pet owner should not want to release a tortoise is because it, too, will most likely die in less than a year in the wild. All around, it is a big death sentence.

The goal of rescues and shelters today is to educate the general public. Here are a few tips. Glass tanks or aquariums are extremely harmful habitats for any tortoise at any size. Please research “tortoise table” if you are going to get a small tortoise and want to find out about proper, safe housing. Do not use your local grocery store to feed your tortoise full-time. Honestly, there is no Ralph’s in the Mojave Desert or the sub-Saharan region.

Bigger is always better when planning a habitat for one of these two tortoises. Naturally they are explorers and wanderers, needing exercise to maintain their health.

If you think you want red ear slider turtle, make sure you have a pond or that you don’t mind having a 200-gallon aquarium and the expense of it in your home long-term. Consider (legally) adopting a tortoise or turtle instead of buying one from a store or breeder. As long as there is a customer out there for them, these animals will continue to be overbred.

If someone is selling you something for a tortoise, ask yourself if it would be a naturally occurring thing where they come from in the wild.

Last, please do your research before getting any turtle or tortoise. It is a very long-term commitment.

Here are some helpful, reputable links to consider researching for more information:

www.tortoise.org

www.ojaisulcataproject.org

www.donsdeserttortoises.com

To adopt a turtle or tortoise already in a rescue, please consider contacting your local California Turtle and Tortoise Club chapter or your local animal shelter.

 

Abigail DeSesa is a 15-year resident of Castaic, 2014 valedictorian of College of the Canyons, and a volunteer turtle and tortoise rescuer.

Comment On This Story
COMMENT POLICY: We welcome comments from individuals and businesses. All comments are moderated. Comments are subject to rejection if they are vulgar, combative, or in poor taste.
REAL NAMES ONLY: All posters must use their real individual or business name. This applies equally to Twitter account holders who use a nickname.

12 Comments

  1. At the Castic shelter?

  2. I’ll take the tortoise

  3. I just got a red slider turtle from the Castaic animal shelter. They are not equipt for these animals. Rescue Rescue!!!

  4. I can help with tortoise also!

  5. Abigail says:

    Thank you Sandra!

  6. Jennifer Fields says:

    What a great article. There are so many great tortoises out there, that with some research you can find the one that is right for your family. Never buy at a pet store.

  7. Abigail says:

    Please contact your local California Turtle and Tortoise Club to get an application or check your local shelters. Both need homes.
    :-)

  8. Thanks Abigail for an informative article. Too many people acquire pets on a whim. A cute turtle in a container downtown, a puppy in a pet store window, Easter bunnies or chicks, etc. Then the novelty wears off and rescues and shelters are flooded. We all need to be responsible pet guardians. Pets are a long term commitment. Do a little research before taking on the commitment. And always rescue, rescue, rescue, never purchase.

  9. Greg Kimura says:

    Great article. Thanks for taking time to write it!

  10. Jim Cornall says:

    We (Tortoise Group) work with pet desert tortoises in Nevada, and the same issues so well put in this article are also the case here. It’s very easy to forget that this is an issue that occurs in multiple species, and multiple locations, and it doesn’t go away. Anyone reading this in Nevada is welcome to contact us about adoptions in this state. Thanks for publishing such a comprehensive and balanced article on these issues.

Leave a Comment


Opinion Section Policy
All opinions and ideas are welcome. Factually inaccurate, libelous, defamatory, profane or hateful statements are not. Your words must be your own. All commentary is subject to editing for legibility. There is no length limit, but the shorter, the better the odds of people reading it. "Local" SCV-related topics are preferred. Send commentary to: LETTERS (at) SCVNEWS.COM. Author's full name, community name, phone number and e-mail address are required. Phone numbers and e-mail addresses are not published except at author's request. Acknowledgment of submission does not guarantee publication.
Read More From...
RECENT COMMENTARY
Tuesday, Jan 19, 2021
I think everyone gave a sigh of relief at midnight on Dec. 31, 2020. The most troubling and stressful year in recent memory was finally over.
Tuesday, Dec 1, 2020
If you are looking to get into the holiday spirit this month, I encourage you to visit Old Town Newhall.
Tuesday, Nov 3, 2020
As restrictions remain in place for gatherings and events in Los Angeles County, one of Santa Clarita’s most important traditions will take place on an online format in 2020.
Tuesday, Nov 3, 2020
The holiday shopping rush is upon us! As with everything this year, checking loved ones off your shopping list will look a little different in 2020. There will be no braving the crowds and tussling for the first crack at the doorbuster deals on Black Friday.
Friday, Oct 2, 2020
In his monthly message for October 2020, Santa Clarita City Manager Ken Striplin spotlights results of the city's 2020 public opinion survey about the quality of life in our community.
Thursday, Oct 1, 2020
As with everything in 2020, this year’s State of the City event will be different than years past. We are looking on the bright side, embracing the necessary changes for safety’s sake and rejoicing in the fact that this year’s event is truly inclusive of the entire Santa Clarita community.

Latest Additions to SCVNews.com
The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health confirmed Tuesday 186 new deaths and 7,902 new cases of confirmed COVID-19, with 22,102 total cases in the Santa Clarita Valley.
Tuesday COVID-19 Roundup: County Ramps Up Large-Scale Vaccination Sites; SCV Tops 22,000 Total Cases
I think everyone gave a sigh of relief at midnight on Dec. 31, 2020. The most troubling and stressful year in recent memory was finally over.
Pets Are Source of Unconditional Love During Uncertain World | Marcia Mayeda
A brush fire quickly spread near Towsley Canyon on Tuesday afternoon, with initial reports indicating it had grown by 50 acres within a half-hour.
Strong Winds Fuel Towsley Canyon Fire
As winds continue to whip through the Santa Clarita Valley, firefighters are battling another brush fire in Canyon Country where structures may be threatened.
Canyon Country Fire Threatens Structures
SACRAMENTO – California State Epidemiologist Dr. Erica S. Pan issued the following statement Sunday recommending providers pause the administration of lot 41L20A of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine due to possible allergic reactions that are under investigation.
California Issues Warning Against Batch of Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine After Allergic Reactions Reported
ARTree Community Arts Center is offering virtual classes that you can share with family and friends, not just around the country, but around the world.
ARTree Offering Virtual Individual, Group Classes
The Santa Clarita Planning Commission is set to further review the proposed 77-acre Sand Canyon Resort development and hear from the developer after commissioners ruled in November the project needed “some work.”
Planning Commission Further Reviews Proposed Sand Canyon Resort
1967 - Original airing of Star Trek "Arena" Episode: Kirk battles the Gorn commander (Saugus resident Bobby Clark) at Vasquez Rocks [watch]
Kirk vs. Gorn commander
The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health on Monday confirmed 88 new deaths and 9,927 new cases of COVID-19 countywide, as Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital in Valencia reported 7 new fatalities since Friday.
Monday COVID-19 Roundup: 7 Deaths at Henry Mayo Since Friday; SCV Cases Near 22,000
After Harleen Grewal became one of the 1 million Los Angelenos to be diagnosed with COVID-19, she realized there’s a better way for people to find out whether they have the virus, or whether they need to isolate because they potentially could make someone else sick.
SCV Husband-and-Wife Team Open Rapid COVID-19 Testing Company
The California Department of Public Health, in coordination with Santa Clara County and the University of California San Francisco, on Sunday announced that an L452R variant of COVID-19 is increasingly being identified by viral genomic sequencing in multiple counties across the state, including Los Angeles County.
COVID-19 Variant First Found in Other Countries, States Now in California
Seeking to support Los Angeles County's efforts to address the COVID-19 pandemic and the tragic impact on its residents, Supervisors Kathryn Barger and Janice Hahn are calling for additional flexibility in the county's vaccination effort to include as many residents as possible and a process to begin vaccinating those 65 and older.
Barger, Hahn Call for Expanded COVID Vaccination Effort in L.A. County
As Americans celebrate the legacy of civil rights icon Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his work to expand voting rights and representation, Governor Gavin Newsom on Monday formally submitted the appointment of Alex Padilla to become California’s first Latino U.S. Senator and the nomination of Assemblymember Dr. Shirley Weber to become the state’s first African American Secretary of State.
Newsom Formally Appoints Padilla a U.S. Senator; Nominates Weber as New Secretary of State
A federal class action filed Friday claims Bank of America failed to secure debit cards containing unemployment benefits for millions of Californians, leading to widespread fraud and making some cardholders unable to access needed funds during a pandemic.
Bank of America Sued for California Unemployment Fraud Scheme
The Los Angeles County Office of Emergency Management will be on high alert Monday night due to the potential of extreme Santa Ana wind and fire weather conditions in much of the county late Monday night into early Wednesday.
L.A. County on High Alert for Strong Wind, Fire Weather Conditions
1899 - Martin & Richard Wood buy J.H. Tolfree's Saugus Eating House, rename it Saugus Cafe [story]
Saugus Cafe
1994, 4:31 a.m. - Magnitude 6.7 Northridge earthquake rocks Santa Clarita Valley [video]
bridge
1926 - Newhall Community Hospital, est. 1922, opens in larger, more modern hospital building at 6th & Spruce streets [story]
Newhall Community Hospital
The death toll from the novel coronavirus pandemic surpassed 2 million on Friday and the World Health Organization warned the global health crisis may get even worse as people weary of restrictions let down their guard and contagious strains of the virus spread around the globe.
Pandemic Death Toll Hits 2 Million Worldwide
At least once a month, residents of the Cali Lake RV community, nestled in a quiet canyon off a rural part of Soledad Canyon Road, have had their power shut off due to Southern California Edison’s Public Safety Power Shutoffs.
Residents Mostly Impacted by Power Shutoffs Express Concern Over Ongoing Events
Late Friday afternoon, a group of parents and student-athletes gathered in front of the William S. Hart Union High School District office to urge the district to bring athletic-conditioning back to school campuses.
Parents, Student-Athletes Gather to Urge Hart District to Bring Athletics Back
A future open space trailhead in the Tesoro area will be named after a founding Santa Clarita city councilman, and a portion of land in Newhall after a family who has donated several acres of land to the city for open-space preservation.
City Council OKs Dedications in Tesoro Area, Newhall Pass Open Space
The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health on Friday confirmed 258 new deaths and 15,051 new cases of COVID-19 countywide, with cases likely to reach over 1 million this weekend. In addition, the Santa Clarita Valley has reached 21,189 total cases.
Friday COVID-19 Roundup: Cases Near 1 Million Countywide; 258 New Deaths in County
%d bloggers like this: