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So You Have Rare and Endangered Animals, Huh?

As we continue to grow in this weird social media world, we unfortunately endure some misplaced, nasty comments that come out of left field. Usually they’re from some lost soul who hasn’t bothered to research who we are or the work we’ve done before using harsh words.

Eastern painted turtle (Chrysemys picta picta), an abundant freshwater species.

Myself working in the field for Herpetological Associates Inc.

By now we all know just how quickly any one of us can receive a negative comment or message from a “keyboard tough guy” when it’s absolutely undeserving. At this point, being able to attack someone directly who you’ve never even met is easier than landing a viral video on TikTok. Negativity on social media is common but 99.9% of the time we don’t even give it any attention. One message that came through our website is worthy of being addressed because it's regarding something I’ve personally seen occur in the reptile community time and time again. “You claim to be some herpetologist but you keep common sh*t. Show us something rare for once. I can see better sh*t in my own collection.” Well, for starters I happen to be employed as an assistant herpetologist in my regular day job, just to clear that up and so, I’ll leave the commenter unnamed for their sake to save them some embarrassment.

The reason for why I chose to blog about this is because I feel it’s important to remind the public that you’re either a true lover of the animals you choose to spend your time working with or you’re simply looking to impress. Let’s be blunt here. You are NOT, under any circumstances cool, more significant, more interesting or better than ANYONE else just because you keep, work with or breed endangered or critically endangered species of animals. The term endangered isn’t a compliment to the animal(s), it’s a word to describe the terrible situation they’re in. Simply put, being endangered downright SUCKS.

Eastern box turtles (Terrapene c. carolina)

A species that has reached the status of endangered indicates that it is approaching an all time low. It’s sickly common for individuals (especially in the pet trade) to seek out the most endangered species to buy, just for bragging rights or to make as much money as possible as quickly as possible. “I only work with endangered ones” might sound familiar. Hmmm, really now? So, if this species is one day removed from the endangered list because it’s made a big comeback will you then ditch it because it’s not cool anymore? And let me ask, is this for just money, to brag to your peers, make others feel small or are you doing this with a higher purpose that’ll actually benefit the species? If you are, or just truly love a particular endangered animal but its status has nothing to do with it, kudos to you and keep up the good work.

Surely the answer to this question can have multiple valid reasons but if it’s solely for money or to brag, do the animals and the community a real favor and pass them on to someone else with actual, good intentions. Maybe try and focus on one species regardless of its status because you really LOVE it instead of putting together a collection of those you probably know nothing about and ultimately cannot house properly.

Garden State Tortoise is a family run facility that houses, works with, conserves and preserves both critically endangered AND common species as well as everything in between. But guess what? I think it sucks when someone who is not well-versed in reptiles visits here and we have to tell them that some are in such trouble. I don’t get a feeling of entitlement, excitement or power when I reveal the unfortunate status of them and certainly not because we keep them here and to boot, I was once a kid with no money, no future planned and there was no way I could get my hands on anything endangered or rare. I started in my backyard gaining a deep passion and unconditional love for whatever turtle I saw in the woods, in a pet store, zoo or in a book. That love for any species never left even after we started this crazy adventure and became a home to some so endangered that they’re functionally extinct in the wild.

Marginated tortoises (Testudo marginata) & eastern Hermann's tortoises (Testudo hermanni boettgeri), two common and extremely rewarding species to work with in the hobby.

False map turtle (Graptemys pseudogeographica)

In today’s world, any positive work being done with animals is subject to looming legislation and other threats. It’s a time when you should get off your soap box, take a look at the big picture, re-evaluate yourself and band together with others to ACTUALLY save animals for the right reasons. If you’re looking to brag, take all that money you have and donate it to some organization that’s doing the right thing. Or, go buy a Lamborghini for all I care. Overall, turtles and tortoises are some of the most endangered and threatened vertebrates on the planet now. What they need is way more support from dedicated, legitimately passionate researchers, scientists, breeders and keepers and way, WAY less egomaniacs that just can't let go of that high school quarterback-blowhard mentality.

Florida red-bellied turtle (Pseudemys nelsoni)

I chose to include photos of more common turtle species here because for one, they’re stunning but they’re also a breath of fresh air in the world of braggarts. More importantly, they are still able to perform their vital roles for the ecosystems they occur in, in numbers, and that is AWESOME. Even though we have many endangered species here that I could use photos of, I think it’s better to display the sheer beauty and charisma of these abundant animals in hopes that they’ll gain a better appreciation from the reader. In all honesty it's their situation that's actually the most rare. Why? Well because they AREN'T endangered like more than half of the world's 328 turtle and tortoise species.

It is of course worthy to note that some of these very common species have brought a negative light to the global situation. Rescues are overloaded with unwanted, huge sulcata tortoises and red-eared sliders. Sliders are being released into wild places where they do not belong, are surviving long term, breeding and competing with native, more sensitive species. Then again, it isn't the turtles that bring the negativity, it's once again man from classic acts of irresponsibility, boredom and poor judgment. Giving a home to one or more of these commonly ditched species is certainly one huge way to make a difference in a positive light. Some people feel that these types shouldn't be bred in any numbers anymore and there is of course plenty of valid data to back up the reasons why. That's not what this blog is all about though, this is about appreciation. Common, rare, colorful, drab, big, small, personable, shy....who the hell cares in the end? If you like it because YOU like it then celebrate it!

Western painted turtle (Chrysemys picta bellii), a common, intricately marked pond dweller.

To sum it all up, if you keep rare species because you want more likes, comments or high fives, get your giant head out of your ass and take a look at the big picture. The playing field in this is for the dedicated who are confident in at least trying to make a difference, not the ankle biters who do little more than make a fuss. If you like red-eared sliders and three-toed box turtles just because, there's not a thing wrong with that. Maybe it's the others who should be looking up to you since you're clearly comfortable with yourself.



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