Academics are reminding parents not to buy their kids a pet turtle on the back of the release of the latest Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film on August 4.
Past films have sparked rises in sales of terrapins, tortoises and turtles only for families to seek to offload them once the novelty wears off.
LJMU researchers found hundreds of the unwanted reptiles for sale in a new study on the online trade in shelled vertebrates.
The main message is: “Think very carefully before you buy a turtle or terrapin. And then think some more. And then don’t buy one because you’ll probably regret it,” said Dr Jon Bielby, a senior lecturer in the School of Biological and Environmental Sciences.
An estimated 1 million turtles and tortoises are kept at pets in the UK – about the same number as guinea pigs.
“The animals, which can lead a variety of different ecological lifestyles and have very specific requirements such as UVB lighting, temperature, diet, and water conditions, which are hard to recreate in captivity.”
Specialist rescue centres and sanctuaries around the UK are overwhelmed with the number they receive, while feral populations caused by people releasing unwanted animals into the wild, could also cause ecological problems and suffer from poor health due to UK conditions.”
Dr Bielby said the research – published today in PLOS One – aimed to uncover more about how illegal and unethical sales were taking place and to what extent classified ads were routes to exotic pet transactions.
“We saw that the general use pattern in this group of animals was consistent with people trying to resell. They weren’t selling for profit, they were usually selling animals that they had decided they didn’t want or couldn’t keep any longer.
“Clearly, if we want to make the sale and keeping of tortoise and turtles (and reptiles more generally) ethically sound and sustainable, we need to focus interventions and legislation at the correct point in the supply chain.
“Our results suggest that in the UK general classified adverts may not be the most effective place for sole interventions – instead and changes should potentially be at point of importation or first point of sale.
Jon suggests that more effective methods to reduce imports might include: pre-purchase qualifications for owners, higher prices earlier in the trade, only selling animals with the right equipment, and better information on how tricky these animals are to keep.
“People often don’t even realise that a 5cm long turtle may grow to 40cm in the next two years and will live for 50 years!”
-The paper 'Online classified adverts reflect the broader United Kingdom trade in turtles and tortoises rather than drive it' is published today in PLOS ONE and is authored by Dr Jon Bielby of LJMU, Dr Kirsten McMillan of Dogs Trust, Andy Ferguson of the National Turtle Sanctuary at Lincolnshire Wildlife Park, and Matthew Rendle of the Association of Zoo and Exotic Veterinary Nurses"