Releasing Turtles Into the Wild

Once a turtle is in captivity it should not be released back into the wild for the following reasons:

  1. The turtle can spread disease picked up in captivity to other turtles in the wild. Pathogens, viruses, and bacteria are not always presented in the form of a symptom. Even if the turtle looks and acts like its feeling well it can still carry pathogens that will wipe out entire populations of wild turtles. Your turtle could be immune but be a carrier and therefore highly contagious to other turtles.
  2. Wild turtles live in areas where the food will sustain their needs. If everyone who decided his or her turtle would be better off free, think again. If you release the turtle into an area that is already heavy with native turtles, you end up with a situation where they are all competing for a limited amount of food.
  3. Turtles should also never be released into the wild because of climate and adaptation. For instance, a non-hibernating turtle such as a Mexican Wood turtle or an African sideneck released in a cold climate like Tennessee, Maine, or anywhere there is potential for freezing weather will surely die. In addition, if your turtle was a pet and has relied on you for food, he may not be the strongest hunter and will slowly and painfully starve to death when he cannot find food easily.

In some cases release is necessary as it pertains to wildlife rehabilitation

A wildlife rehabber’s main goal is always to return their patients to the wild IF the animal occurs naturally in that particular area of the country. In the case of Florida Gopher tortoises, extreme care most be used to see that the tortoise NEVER comes into contact with any other species of turtles or tortoises while being held in captivity. They cannot even be put into a pen that another turtle or tortoise was in. You must wash your hands before and after you touch the tortoise. Minimal contact with the tortoise will make for an easier transition as release time approaches. Keep all wild turtles and tortoises on a natural diet and avoid processed or canned foods. You want the turtle or tort to pick up where he left off once released. You must keep their environment sterile at all times. This procedure requires consistency and attention to cleanliness and diet. A certified wildlife rehabber is qualified to do this, but not the general public. If an endemic species ends up in captivity, it’s wisest to turn it over to a wildlife rehabilitator who works closely with wildlife agencies and qualified veterinarians. Together they can assure the safe reintroduction of an endemic wild turtle or tortoise.

I hope I have helped you to understand the importance of finding homes for unwanted domestic turtles and the difference why it’s all right to release native species only after rehab, but never any turtles that have lived in your home, even for a brief period of time.