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July 6, 2010 3:04 PM   Subscribe

The youth program I work for has taken in a painted turtle from the wild against my advice. We are very ill-prepared to care for this thing. What advice can you give so I can keep this thing healthy for as long as possible, given the limited resources we have?

The youth program has taken in this turtle without really thinking through the long-term implications of this pet. When I brought up the difficulties in this kind of animal care (such as the concept of “cold-blooded”), I was met with blank stares. Everyone seems to be set on keeping this turtle, so I am going to do my damnedest to keep the poor thing alive.

The turtle is not in a tank. Rather, it has been placed in a shallow plastic kiddie-pool with about 5 inches of dechlorinated water. There are a couple of planks and rocks angled in such a way so that the turtle can climb out of the water. This pool is kept inside the youth room, which has an ambient temperature that hovers around 70 degrees F.

The current feeding plan seems to be buying minnows from the pet store and letting them swim in the same pool as the turtle.

When presented with this plan, my immediate reactions were:

+ What about a light source?
+ How is this sanitary?
+ Do you really think the minnows are going to swim around and the turtle will just merrily eat them up?
+ This water is too cold.
+ What are we going to do with this once summer ends?
+ There is no way this turtle is going to be kept free of disease.
+ Death hovers over us like a storm cloud.

Even after voicing my disapproval and skepticism of this plan, it has been decided that the turtle will stay. So, I need all the help I can get to keep this thing alive with this set up. We have no money, so this is about all we have to work with.

I’ve convinced them to buy a heating lamp for the little guy, will that be enough? Any specific (and cheap) product reccomendations?

The water temperature is going to be left at room temp., is that too cold?

The turtle has algae growing on its shell, is that common for a turtle – or is that already a sign of disease?

Since this is a wild turtle, should we be considering a special feeding plan, or will pet store food be sufficient?

Am I over-estimating the difficulties of keeping a turtle in this kind of environment?
posted by Think_Long to Pets & Animals (16 answers total)
Would it be possible to sneak into wherever the turtle is being held, after dark, and let it go free?
posted by griphus at 3:11 PM on July 6, 2010 [7 favorites]

Your profile doesn't say where you are, but in Tennessee (where I live) it is illegal to keep any animal, including turtles, you have taken from the wild. It may well be illegal where you are, too. Perhaps this might be useful ammunition - you wouldn't want to be a bad, law-flouting example for the kids, would you?
posted by workerant at 3:14 PM on July 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: + How is this sanitary?

You should probably let them know that wild reptiles are a salmonella vector. That might be enough to put the kibosh on this project.

That said - I've kept lots of turtles and other stuff for up to week at a time in a nature center. There is nothing especially wrong with your setup -- the turtle will probably eat the minnows, and you can also try hamburger, lettuce, and crickets -- except that it sounds like no one is going to be able to teach the kids much about turtles. I have a hard time arguing for wild animals to be kept as pets if there is no greater educational purpose and no knowledgeable keeper to protect the wild animal.

You can Google "pet painted turtle" or "keeping painted turtle" for more info.
posted by Miko at 3:17 PM on July 6, 2010

I think that Mr. Painted Turtle should tragically "escape" his enclosure tomorrow night. Put a rock next to the edge of the pool to make it plausible.
posted by crankylex at 3:28 PM on July 6, 2010 [7 favorites]

Best answer: When you say the youth program did it, do you mean the staff or the kids? If it's the kids, a solid No (with a list of reasons) would suffice. If it's the staff, how high up in the organization does knowledge of the turtling go? Inform your supervisor, or their supervisor, or whatever; try to work the words children, salmonella, and liability in the same sentence.
posted by Sys Rq at 3:32 PM on July 6, 2010 [6 favorites]

Also, what Sys Rq said. Children, salmonella, liability. This should have an effect, if the head of the program isn't tragically stupid.

If this fails, are the parents of these students the type to be involved at all? Maybe if you send home a flyer cheerfully announcing the turtle's arrival, maybe one of the parents will be a killjoy and you'll be "forced" to return him to the wild.
posted by crankylex at 3:38 PM on July 6, 2010

Ditto the above. If none of this works, could you try to get them to let it go after camp is over?
(p.s. anyone want a 6-8 inch red eared slider?)
posted by Ochre,Hugh at 4:23 PM on July 6, 2010

Speaking as someone who gave her infant brother salmonella from a turtle I handled while not at home, take that stuff seriously! It can pass through indirect contact & make little kids some kind of seriously sick!
posted by Ys at 4:36 PM on July 6, 2010

Everything that has been said above, plus to answer your question: No, you are not underestimating the difficulties. I would explain to the kids that they are going to slowly (perhaps quickly) and surely going to kill the turtle. It is better to appreciate wild critters in their natural habitats rather than boxing them up for our amusement and making their lives miserable.

Or just tell them it escaped and take it back to where it came from.
posted by bolognius maximus at 6:00 PM on July 6, 2010

Best answer: Salmonella infections occur through fecal-oral contact. While the bacterium is present in the feces of all reptiles and birds, aquatic turtles are the usual because people don't tend to lick reptile or bird poo.

Let me explain.

What happens is that the turtles defecate in the water, contaminating it. Then people handle the wet turtle or get their hands into the contaminated water and then bring their hands to their mouths.

Rigorous hygiene procedures are therefore necessary to avoid infection. With such procedures, the risk is minimized, but it doesn't sound like this youth program is up to them. So I'd second the idea of mentioning liability issues if a kid gets sick from salmonella poisoning.

Most jurisdictions protect wild turtles, so you might want to pursue that angle as well. In some states, wildlife officers can be real hardasses.

Not to say that I disapprove of turtle keeping, but if you want some convincing arguments, you've certainly got a few in this thread.
posted by mcwetboy at 6:38 PM on July 6, 2010

I think you're right about the turtle needing to go back to the wild. This setup isn't good for the turtle or the humans.

If this is your co-workers/supervisors insisting on keeping the turtle, perhaps a representative from the local SPCA/conservation officer could come in and say what you have been saying (this is not a good arrangement for the turtle's health or the humans' health and the turtle needs to be put back in the wild). Even if they won't listen to you, perhaps they'll listen to the SPCA/conservation officer.

If it's the kids in the program, well tough for them. You, as youth worker, are well within your rights to put your foot down and put the turtle back in the wild over their objections. It's not like you haven't explained why this is a terrible idea. They need to accept that.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 7:52 PM on July 6, 2010

If you are only going to keep the turtle for a few weeks, your set up will be fine. Add fresh (ie creek water) often, and some green stuff, like the rotting lettuce Miko suggested would be a good idea.

Salmonella is a problem, but don't let the kids touch him or his water, and if you have to, really scrub your hands afterwards, and your not going to get it by inhaling. There are worse thing to handle around.

I don't know about the legal issues, but kids do like to keep such things and they do provide teaching opportunities, including teaching about hygiene and respect for wild things. Use the chance, and in a few days then let the critter go, with great fanfare. When the kids know why he will be happier once let go, they will be happy to let him go.
posted by Some1 at 10:34 PM on July 6, 2010

Just snag it and put it back wherever it was found. Don't announce it to the world, but if asked don't deny it.
posted by ZaneJ. at 3:36 AM on July 7, 2010

like the rotting lettuce Miko suggested would be a good idea.

Do not feed turtles rotting lettuce. Do not feed them rotting anything. That's not what they eat. Aquatic turtles need a wide variety of fresh herbivorous material, with some protein from fish and invertebrates. More meat=more frequent water changing, BTW.

If I were you, I would sneak this turtle back to where it was found. It should not be handled, in any case. That stresses the turtle and can possibly spread disease, as has been pointed out. It will need a basking light and a dry place to get out of the water and under the light. Also a place to hide.
posted by oneirodynia at 3:40 AM on July 7, 2010

Response by poster: After a week of watching the water in the pool turn an unhealthy shade of cloudy forest green, and the algae patch on the turtles back spread to its legs, I have convinced the powers that be that this is perhaps not a good idea for anybody.

The reptile has gone back to where it came from, and so far I am salmonella free. I'm marking the salmonella related answers as best, because my constant harping of "DISEASE VECTOR DISEASE VECTOR" may have had a role in this decision.

Thanks all
posted by Think_Long at 7:40 AM on July 14, 2010

Thank you for updating us. Glad the turtle is back in its home and that you are salmonella-free!
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:53 PM on July 14, 2010

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