Urban development in Colorado is having a drastic impact on wild ornate box turtles in the area. In this article, the Northern Colorado Herpetological Society, a Zen Reptile Relief partner, provides insight into this issue.
Many states have regulations that allow for the capture and captive care of reptiles, including Colorado, home to the Northern Colorado Herpetological Society (NCHS). While it may be legal to collect a certain number of wild animals for captivity, is it ethical?
From the perspective of the NCHS, the answer depends on the specific situation, species, and other care capacity factors. In general, a wild animal that is healthy enough to have an acceptable quality of life in the wild should stay in the wild.
The ornate box turtle
The ornate box turtle is one species the NCHS works to protect locally by promoting the importance of keeping them in the wild. Due to their charming features, small size, and easy requirements for care, these terrestrial turtles are often taken in as pets.
Their numbers are drastically declining in the front range of the Rocky Mountains, primarily due to urban development. Ornate box turtles live their entire adult lives, a 20 to 30-year lifespan, in a limited range of approximately six football fields of square footage. Ornate box turtles make their homes in prairie environments that are also ideal for housing developments in Colorado.
Over the past few years, NCHS has seen an exponential increase in calls from people who found a lost turtle pet in their neighborhoods. In most situations, the turtle is wild and has called that area home for more years than the housing development existed. When this happens, it leads to tough decision-making. Should this animal be released into the housing development no longer an ideal habitat? Should it be relocated? Should it be adopted as a pet to serve the animal’s quality of life best?
Relocation has shown to be unsuccessful, with studies on the relocation of box turtles demonstrating a trend of higher mortality rates. Sometimes the best scenario for the individual animal is to be adopted out to a captive home, which, unfortunately, can lead to a more significant decline in native populations.
When people find wild turtles and experience their gentle behavior, they may decide to keep the animal as a pet without research or expert advice. Keeping an ornate box turtle captive can also lead to detrimental health effects if specific environmental requirements and dietary needs are not met.
Educational Ambassador Ducky
Ducky, an ornate box turtle that is an educational ambassador for the NCHS, was found at a local nature area with physical deformities indicative of metabolic bone disease. This condition causes insufficient calcium, vitamin D, and the UVB lighting needed to synthesize vitamin D.
Ducky was taken from the wild at an early age and not provided the necessary nutrients for proper shell and bone development. Due to her deformities, she cannot use her hinged plastron to box herself to stay safe from predators in the wild or the elements in the wintertime. She also has beak deformities that interfere with her eating solid foods. Because of deformities, she cannot be released back into the wild. As an educational ambassador, the NCHS brings her to schools and community groups to teach children and adults about Colorado’s native species and the importance of keeping them in the wild and not in captive homes.
Ducky is part a program that educates children and adults on the importance of keeping wild turtles in the wild
The NCHS partners with other organizations, including the Northern Colorado Wildlife Center, to provide support and information for people who have found native species in urban environments and guidance on the best way to keep the animal wild. They also offer support and adoptive resources for animals that cannot be released into the wild due to health defects like Ducky or unsuitable habitats like housing developments or urban settings.