and the Importance of Their Place in Helping Hands
In today's reptile community it's become very easy for individuals to assume things and to harshly point fingers. We see this across the board with various topics concerning these creatures but it's the protected species native to our country that we see this happen more often with. Several turtle species really take on the brunt of being associated with assumptions, skepticism and most importanly, false information. Probably the most famous subjects in this matter are the North American wood turtle (Glyptemys insculpta), Blanding's turtle (Emydoidea blandingii) and spotted turtle (Clemmys guttata). This famed "trifecta" have remained an American favorite historically and in recent years they have sadly been the victims of an alarming smuggling ring. Already rather pricey here in the states, these three species fetch remarkable dollar amounts overseas and have been a major focus for illegal trade. They simply cannot under any circumstances be legally exported out of the United States without legitimate and very hard to obtain paperwork and so smugglers have opted on many occasions to sneak them out. Luckily several of these individuals have been caught but many are still illegally practicing this trade. As a result, wild populations of wood, Blanding's and spotted turtles have suffered devastating blows across their range and this has caught the undivided attention of not only state fish and wildlife agencies but of the federal agency as well. Most recently these species are in consideration for ESA (Endangered Species Act) listing which will make it more difficult for anyone to legally obtain them who hasn't already. While this may seem so unfair, we must realize that it is our own species that has caused such damage to the turtles and their homelands. The problem does not reside only with people foreign to the USA but it is actually rooted right here in our own American soil. Those eager to make a quick buck have literally stripped once healthy populations of every last turtle in site just to supply the demanding foreign collectors and distributors. All three of these turtle species receive some level of protection (endangered, threatened or species of special concern) in every state they occur and they cannot be legally collected from the wild under any circumstances (some laws regarding spotted turtles may go against this statement in select areas but will be reviewed and most likely changed soon). These regulations in combination with the frequency of illegal trade have led to countless assumptions being made about almost anyone who possess wood, Blanding's and/or spotted turtles. This is where the situation grows to a new level and where misconceptions take over. Any of these three protected species can be possessed, traded, sold and bred in a number of areas including some states where they naturally inhabit. New Jersey for example is one of these. In this state, any person is allowed to possess, sell & buy (to & from out of state residents only) and even breed wood (native), Blanding's (non native) and spotted turtles (native) as well as several other species both native and non native. The stipulation is that none can be those which have been collected from the wild. All turtles being possessed must have a valid papertrail linking them back to a legal source of acquisition otherwise the NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife will deny permittance, possibly press charges and confiscate the animal(s). The turtle(s) must also come from a state where the species itself is not protected from any trade involving it. For example, in Pennsylvania all three of these species are prohibited from possession, trade, purchase etc. of any kind so if they are coming from that state, it would not be legal to bring them here. Even though Blanding's turtles are NOT a New Jersey native species, they are still protected under the federal Lacey Act which forbids the transit of them across state lines that they are protected within.
In the past, it was rather easy to distinguish a wild collected turtle from a captive born and raised one. Differences in the color, shape and condition of the shell along with behavior and other factors made the differentiation possible. Today, turtle husbandry has reached an all time high with new, successful and even naturalistic methods right at our fingertips and so our turtles are looking better than ever. Simply raising captive born babies outdoors in a natural, optimal setting will cause them to grow and appear as they would in nature. Countless groups, organizations and societies well-equipped with functioning websites on the matter have enabled keepers across our nation and the world to learn more about proper chelonian husbandry. This makes the separation between wild caught and captive bred harder than ever. Still, there are some key factors we can go by especially if an animal has been raised improperly in captivity. Research notches on the marginal scutes of turtles can be a give away that these were study subjects in a wild population somewhere which were illegally poached. However, various keepers now notch their own turtles as an identification measure to help prevent theft. In truth, there is an answer for everything but regardless of where a turtle came from, if your state requires a papertrail and permit issuance to keep them in any way, shape or form, it is your duty as a responsible human-being to abide by the laws. Ignoring the law creates more of a hassle for the entire community and only adds fuel to the growing fire of regulations impending upon us. Alas, because of the abundance of law-breakers, "our kind" are often categorized all together with little recognition between the bad and good. This is a real problem.
It never has been, nor will it ever be fair or right to assume anything concerning the possession or history of these turtle species unless the bona fide proof of a violated regulation is presented and this goes for countless other species too. American box turtles, Diamondback terrapins and Map turtles are all subject to this kind of scrutiny as well. Although there is a staggering amount of bad in this community these days, we cannot overlook, forget or ignore the good. Various people have dedicated their lives to doing everything they can to prolong the existence of the world's chelonians which is priceless. What's even better is the surfacing of new ideas and the acceptance of ones that were once thought to not work. Today, eyes of the world have opened to see the benefits of captive propagation. At this point, it is entirely unacceptable to think that the captive breeding of species such as wood, Blanding's and spotted turtles will not influence their welfare in a very positive way. The act of legally producing these animals in captive situations not only lessens the need for poachers to take them from the wild but it opens doors to the secrets behind their reticent lives that once remained closed. Everything from reproduction to behavioral traits and patterns, dietary needs, ailments and senses have all been learned and recorded from the animals by experiencing them on a daily basis. These captive observations along with the monitoring of wild populations and conservation overall makes for an aggressive attempt at actually helping them long term. We need the regulations but we also need the expertise and caring hands of the private sector. Conservation and captive propagation are beginning to see a sort of merge in some cases and I cannot put into words how crucial that is for the big picture. In a world where the destruction of habitats, pollution, poaching, encroachment and disease continues to prevail over everything else and shows no sign of ever stopping significantly, our efforts to better the future of them in our own hands is key to their ultimate survival.
The issue lies with whether or not an individual chooses to follow the law. This is something we take so incredibly seriously here. Every single one of our wood, Blanding's and spotted turtles (and other species as well) are documented and we are fully permitted to posses them. Complete photo records and other means of individual identification such as microchipping are practiced here. Through the method of microchipping the turtles, they can never be confused with another animal and they remain tied to their original papertrail. In the end, regardless of what you do for your turtles, it's imperative that you acquire them legally. And don't be fooled by false statements, any of these species absolutely CAN be legally obtained in certain states, you just have to do your research and know the good from the bad. Each state's requirements may vary but in New Jersey, an individual will only be granted permission to keep them if proof is shown that they were not illegally collected from the wild after protection laws were put in place. This doesn't just cover wood, Blanding's and spotted turtles, it goes for most species, especially those native to the United States. I discuss this matter further on the NJ TURTLE LAWS page.
In conclusion, the purpose of this page is purely to promote awareness and educate those interested in the mystery behind these American iconic turtles. It is also meant to set those straight who may have concerns or opinions on the legality of our animals and the species mentioned as a whole. We know many Americans can no longer enjoy these species due to federal and state restrictions and it may only get worse as time passes. The truth is that those in our community who continue to assume the worst and falsify information pertaining to the turtles and the individuals who posses them will only help the authorities gain the upper hand in legislation. Regulations will only worsen the more and more our actions give reason to enact them. This could have detrimental effects on these turtle species because in an attempt to rid human hands of them by and large, the animals will no longer be in the right place. Turtles and tortoises absolutely need our help in this ever-changing world and they also need us to join forces so we can work together, learn together and fight for them together. An end must be put to the division between so many passionate people who share one, major, common interest because perhaps a powerful group effort can actually change the fate of our world's chelonians and the rulings relevant to them. Here, we have managed to surround ourselves and our animals with the right people and maintaining a trusting relationship with any fish and wildlife agency in conjunction with following the laws are first and foremost in the grand sheme of things. There's plainly no reason not to do it this way because keep one thing in mind: in the end, it's the turtles that suffer if we all go down.
There really is good and bad out there, find the good and unite.....for the turtles' sake.
Questions, comments or concerns? Check it out for yourself and visit NJ Fish & Wildlife