SALEM, OR -- Giving live pets as Christmas gifts is generally ill-advised. But if the animal is a turtle, Oregon's Department of Fish and Wildlife says that gift could be criminal.
"Western Painted Turtles and our Western Pond Turtles, those are both protected species in Oregon," says Rick Boatner, ODFW's Invasive Species Coordinator, "We’re trying to recover them to increase their population by doing restoration work [and] protecting their nests." It is illegal to possess native Northwestern Pond Turtles or the popular Western Painted Turtles in Oregon without a permit. But that doesn’t stop people from raiding nests and stealing hatchlings from the wild.
ODFW is investigating such a case in Lane County. "When we find a nest, a lot of times we enclose them so predators won’t get to them first. And somebody from the public got to them first and removed them from the area," says Boatner. ODFW Biologists even fenced off the area around the Eugene nests, posted signs, and installed cameras. But someone cut the fence and stole the cameras, as well.
Taking turtle hatchlings from the wild is a poaching crime, and Boatner says it's a big problem in Oregon, "Especially the selling of hatchlings this time of year, for Christmas presents." More than a dozen hatchlings were taken in the Eugene incident. Boatner expects they’ll show up for sale online.
Generally, he says, it’s a bad idea to gift a turtle, "I’m going to throw this especially at grandparents; they’re terrible in the sense that they want to buy a little turtle for their grandkids. Give us a call first, to find out if they’re legal to have in the state. And, you want to think about the age of the child, their attention span." Some species can live more than 50 years. "They’re great and cute when they’re hatchlings. But when they get to the size of a dinner plate, people don’t want them."
He has advice for people who come across a turtle in nature, "People pick them up and take them as a pet. Or, when they’re walking on a trail, they find a hatchling and they take them home. That would be one - do not remove them from the wild. If you do, contact Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and turn them in to us." And if you see a turtle for sale online, Boatner says you can contact him, "I deal with them, or the local wildlife biologists. I see them on CraigsList sometimes, those kinds of websites. If you report it, we generally do an investigation on it through law enforcement."