Purchasing wild caught vs. captive bred tortoises

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chelonologist

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What are everyone's thoughts on purchasing wild caught tortoises vs. captive bred and hatched tortoises?

Personally, I would never buy a wild-caught tortoise for a pet. Doing so supports an industry that takes wild animals from their native habitats. In terms of population biology, you might as well be killing those animals. When these animals are harvested for the pet trade, their portions of the gene pool are essentially erased from that population. Here's why that's bad: tortoises have a life history strategy that depends on long lifetimes for adults, particularly females. Because only a small portion of eggs laid by females within a population each year actually hatch, and because only a small portion of those hatchlings actually reach maturity, and because tortoises take many years to reach maturity, long term viability of tortoise populations depends on 50 to 60 to 80 years of reproduction from adult females. Because of this life history strategy, tortoises typically don't respond well to environmental disturbances that result in increased rates of removal of tortoises from the population, whether you're talking about deaths or harvesting for the pet trade. This is the reason that so many of the world's turtles and tortoises are declining so quickly - populations are simply not able to sustain harvest and other disturbances caused by man.

Besides the moral and ethical arguments for not purchasing wild caught tortoises, consider that wild caught animals are far more stressed than those hatched and raised in captivity, and they often carry a parasite load. These factors can combine to make sick tortoises, which probably often leads to death if not treated quickly.

Most (if not all) tortoise species commonly kept as pets are readily available as captive bred and hatched animals. So why would anyone even consider purchasing a wild caught adult tortoise these days? The only reason I can see as possibly being an acceptable reason is the professional breeder who occasionally needs to supplement his or her captive population with some different genes to prevent inbreeding. Everyone else (in my opinion) should be purchasing captive bred and hatched animals, which will ultimately lead to less harvesting pressure on wild populations, and recovery of those populations.

I suspect that most of you reading this would agree with my argument. Those pet owners that purchase wild caught animals probably don't realize they're doing it or what the implications of their actions are. So it's up to us to educate them.

Any thoughts?
 

agiletorts

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I generally agree with all of your arguments. And just want to add that I know some people who bought WC from pet stores to "rescue" these tortoises from poor living condition within the store. These people did it with all good intention, but at the same time they give profits to the store owners who in turn will sell another ones in the future and therefore you could argue that these good intention could lead to bad effects. It's hard to be perfect in this world, I guess....
 

egyptiandan

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Actually buying a tortoise from a petshop doesn't affect what comes in the country tortoise wise. Yes it does make the shop owner some money, but if the wholesalers don't have tortoises to sell the petshops won't be buying any.
Petshops don't tell wholesalers get me this, get me that. They just buy off a list the wholesaler supplies
Once the tortoises have been imported, they are here to stay. Whether a wholesaler buys them or a distributer or finally a petshop (all making money on the way) you can't return them to their country of origin, wish we could though.
So buying a tortoise once it comes into this country is only saving the tortoises life (when bought by knowlegable keepers). In hopes that they will be eventually bred to lessen the need for importers to get more tortoises in.
So petshops will buy more tortoises only when available. It doesn't matter whether they have sold the ones they have or they have died.

I do though agree with Michael.

Danny
 

hystrix

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Hi Michael,

That is a controversial issue. I have a feeling you might not get many responses, though..

Why do people buy a wc tort? I think some do because they want to breed but don't want to wait 5-10 years. And some do because it's right there in front of their eyes and it is affordable.

I myself wanted to breed and almost got a wc greek. Well actually, I bought one. But it just didn't feel right and I returned it to the store. The tort had RI and parasites. I knew it did before I purchased it. I knew the store had a policy that they will treat the sick animal and let you purchase again. So I had the store treat the animal but did not go back to get the tort. They treated her for RI and parasite for two months before they contacted me again for re-purchase. I noticed some big chain pet stores with health guarantee policy in my area have stopped selling tortoises because they are losing too much money for sick animals.

I see often people post here and other forums that they "rescued" a tortoise from a pet shop. Some realize that by doing that, they are helping the industry make money and keep doing what they are doing. They say that they can give the torts a better home, better life. I have no doubt that they can. But for that one tort to get to the store, how many others have died during shipment. I think by giving a better home to one tort, they are sending many more torts to very bad places.

WC torts are beautiful. The perfect shell, usually young adult soon to be mature enough to breed. It's very tempting, especially if it's in need of being "rescued".

If people decide to get wc torts, that's their prerogative to do so, but calling it a rescue, I find it to be a bit far fetched.

But I think the issue is more complicated. Most of cb babies come from wc parents. So if we only buy cb, would that help? I'm not sure. I think the collection and importation of wild animals should be regulated much more strictly, before the species become endangered. No doubt, in the not so distant future, there will be a stop to those crates full of russians and greeks. Hopefully before it's too late.

So, what to do? I love tortoises with all my heart. And I love keeping them as pets. I know that keeping a wild animal as pet, I'm never going to be guilt-free. The best thing for them is to be left alone in their merry way in their native habitat. Acknowledging my guilt, I try to minimize damage. I will not buy wc animals. I will only buy cb animals from breeders I trust. I am fortunate to know a very good breeder. I would like to someday breed. But I can wait till my babies grow. I will have a better facility to manage them. And hopefully contribute to organized breeding efforts in some way.

There are a lot more we need to know to take care of these wonderful creatures. I think it's great that we can share experiences in forums like this.

Em
 

drgnfly2265

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Wow, nice debate topic. When I was looking around to get my first tort, it was very tempting to buy one from a pet store. They were right there, ready to go home with someone.

I also saw some at a local flee market. The poor things were in horrible conditions. The tank that they were in had a cardboard floor with poo all over. It was so sad to see them looking through the glass at me. I kept thinking to myself that if I buy them I can "rescue" them and give them a better home. But on the other hand if I did purchase them, then they would just bring more tortoises in to sell to other people. So I decided not to buy them because I didn't want to support their buisness (I was looking at it from that point of view).

So I was patient, and a friend of mine told me about a wonderful tort breeder. I went and talked to him and he told me that he had eggs that were going to hatch. He told me that he likes to wait a little while after they hatch to make sure that they are healthy before he sells them to anyone. It was definitly worth the wait. And that is where I got my sulcata from. :)

I definitly recommend getting a tort that is cb :D

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agiletorts

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egyptiandan said:
Actually buying a tortoise from a petshop doesn't affect what comes in the country tortoise wise. Yes it does make the shop owner some money, but if the wholesalers don't have tortoises to sell the petshops won't be buying any.
Petshops don't tell wholesalers get me this, get me that. They just buy off a list the wholesaler supplies
Once the tortoises have been imported, they are here to stay. Whether a wholesaler buys them or a distributer or finally a petshop (all making money on the way) you can't return them to their country of origin, wish we could though.
So buying a tortoise once it comes into this country is only saving the tortoises life (when bought by knowlegable keepers). In hopes that they will be eventually bred to lessen the need for importers to get more tortoises in.
So petshops will buy more tortoises only when available. It doesn't matter whether they have sold the ones they have or they have died.

I do though agree with Michael.

Danny

Dan, I agree that once a tortoise has been imported to a certain country then it'd be there to stay. But again it's supply and demand. If you create a demand by buying a wc tortoise from a pet shop, then the pet shop will buy from the wholesaler again the next time pet shop owner got a new list that shows new tortoises available and continue the cycle. Arguing whether supply or demand comes first is just like arguing chicken and egg.

Maybe by not buying wc then the pet shop owner won't order anymore of them and in turn the wholesaler won't import anymore since they're not making money. Sounds like a very long shot though.
 

chelonologist

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agiletorts said:
Maybe by not buying wc then the pet shop owner won't order anymore of them and in turn the wholesaler won't import anymore since they're not making money. Sounds like a very long shot though.

Better yet, we should be telling pet shops that we'd much prefer to purchase captive bred tortoises rather than imported tortoises, and we'd even pay more (if necessary) to do it. This would not only reduce the demand for wild caught tortoises and relieve pressure on wild populations, but also give tortoise breeders a bigger role (i.e., more business).

Perhaps we should not only be educating potential pet tortoise owners, but also pet stores. I wonder if we couldn't come up with a way to campaign some of the major pet stores (PetSmart, Petco, etc.) to get them to think this way.

One barrier that prevents us from making any headway on this is the 4" rule. Dang! Has anyone heard of efforts to get this rule repealed?
 

-EJ

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As Dan mentioned... petshops just sell what is available with little or no control of the available animals.

As to the deman... that would be almost impossible for any group to control because most countries that allow the export of wild caught animals do usually have quotas so the supply is usually limited.

In the case of tortoises when there is a 'new supply' that is usually exausted in a few years. What usually happens is that the supply is shut down for one reason or another.

The newest trend is that animals are now being ranched. Some see this as a scam... I don't in most cases. These are basically wild caught animals but the production is controlled.

Wild caught tortoises do carry a risk but there is the benefit of bringing in a geneticly healthy because natural selection is at work.

Ed
 

Itort

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Last night I watching a travel show about Columbia with the emphasis on local cuisine. One of the popular dishes was redfoot tortoise. They are kept in the backyard of the eating establishment and fattened like hogs. My point is in many of the native areas of these animals, they are a commidity and is it better to have them eaten or sold to a broker (often for a higher price) and exported. The tort will still be harvested at a rate that is economically viable wheather for food or export.
 

oswego tort lover

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the way iv understood that law is its about water turtles and not land tortoies, and here in new york state at least its under stood as water turtles by a reading of the specific law, so no under 4 inch water turtles are sold at least in the open but under 4inch tortoies are sold, for many years now with out consern or bother from our nysdec. the federal gov barred both water and land chelonians under 4 inchs from overseas importation, i think... but if not id like a few italian hermanni. ..ed
 

-EJ

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Sorry... this was argued and lost...
Turtles are all chelonians in this case.

oswego tort lover said:
the way iv understood that law is its about water turtles and not land tortoies, and here in new york state at least its under stood as water turtles by a reading of the specific law, so no under 4 inch water turtles are sold at least in the open but under 4inch tortoies are sold, for many years now with out consern or bother from our nysdec. the federal gov barred both water and land chelonians under 4 inchs from overseas importation, i think... but if not id like a few italian hermanni. ..ed
 

evin

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i personally dont tink it is a supply and demand situationmost shops have many holding tanks in the back so even if they dont sell the ones up front they will order more when they can, plus in the beginning of my turt and tort adventures i bought a WC from a pet shop, i didnt know any better but 3 years later i havent seen 1 tortoise in the shop
 

YuriTort

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Hi all -

The education of pet store customers regarding our shelled friends is on my mind alot, and since it was touched on here, I'll put in my .02 (if anyone will tolerate my rant). I confess, I got my tort from a pet store because I couldn't stand seeing him in there. And I know that is wrong and it contributes to the problem, but I still love my Yuri.

I wish industry legislation existed to *require* pet stores to educate people who are purchasing tortoises/turtles, both about care and acquistion. You see these young kids with parents picking out their animal and a glass tank to keep it in. I hate to go to Petco, etc., but I have several pets and need to buy food, crickets, and darn it, the prices are decent.

More than once, I have *not* kept my thoughts to myself when I have seen a child far too young to care for a pet with an uneducated parent eyeing a tort. Yeah, some of the clerks at Petco hate me. I get alot of eye-rolling and the "it's that cranky lady again" looks.

And it doesn't always stop at torts with me. You should have been there when this woman with her 2 kids under the age of 5 were buying a Betta and one of those horrible cartoonish set ups, and she commented to the clerk: "Oh well, at least they're disposable." As they say ... "I went off, man."

OK, I know it's "only" a fish, but what kind of petkeeping example is this person setting? When the kids are a few years older, is the tortoise disposable? What about when they tire of the family dog when it's no longer a cute puppy?

I have seriously considered researching, writing, and printing "tortoise-keeper-approved" care sheets for torts that would discourage most of these ... people ... from buying the animals, and then slipping them into the Petco care sheet sleeves. One that includes enclosure photos and how-tos, light requirements, and to really hammer home that point that these animals live a l-o-n-g time. This would include wild caught vs. captive bred info.

Maybe there is a tortoise club that already has some sort of "tortoise keeping bible" that could be shared, printed, and distributed among "volunteers" who would place the sheets in pet stores, sort of a "tortoise keeping reform campaign" ...? If there isn't, could we create one?

(Another one of my recurring thoughts is to simply make a sign that says in huge red cap letters "These animals cannot live in a glass tank" and taping it to the tort tanks in Petco, etc., when no one is looking. I wonder if it is against the law? Probably just a $250 fine for "mischief.")

Well ... thanks for listening. I'm sorry, I know this went way off topic. I'm all worked up now. I'm ready to print, distribute, and shake it up.

Rhishja & Yuri
 

Marla

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I feel we all should buy captive bred tortoises..Your mission statement for the plight of the tortoises is very beautifully written....

What the pet stores buy depends on what does come into the country...The problem is the buyers(customers)..I know pet store owners that will not carry animals on their shelves if they are not going to sell...So yes there will be an impact on the brokers if they can't move these animals(meaning WC won't be worth purchasing)..Now if these animals are going to be brought into the country for what ever reason they need to be put into a breeders program..In other words breeders need to be the only one allowed to take on a WC...There is nothing sadder then the loss of a genetic line....or worse, a very old old tortoise that made it through the shipping process only to end up in a ten gallon tank in a kids room forgotten about...:(

Really if you think about it most tortoise people have been very successful in raising and breeding tortoises..We all need to sell our babies to pet stores.. and breeders need to buy from each other..The years have passed and there are lots of different people on 2nd to 5th generation tortoises....I myself am keeping my prices very low so a broker can come in and buy me out...Giving a chance to see CB for sale verses WC...

Then of course there is the issue of the wild populations in other countries that do no have our federal protections..Some of these WC will only survive in our back yards...This is an issue with many negatives and some positives....We really need to take care of the WC because of this.....

For those who feel they are rescuing the tortoise from the pet store. You really need to get involved in reporting animal abuse or contacting the owner and complaining..Also have members of your local clubs get invovled..They might be able to educate the store keeper and convince him/her to buy CB tortoises only...In the long run you will be doing all tortoises a favor...
 

egyptiandan

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Very good points Marla, but your forgetting about the 4 inch law. Which says a business can't sell turtles or tortoises under 4 inches unless they are for export, education or scientific purposes.
It's all well and good to have a sign in your shop saying this, but to cover your or their butts they need to have papers saying this that the buyer has to sign. This paper work than would need to be available for the FDA to check on. They can actually go to the petshops buyers and if the buyer isn't using the animal for those three purposes they will most likely have the animal taken and be fined as well as the pet shop.
A very big wholsaler in Florida just got in trouble for selling turtles and tortoises under 4 inches. They had all their animals that size confiscated and if they still want to sell animals under 4 inches, every single buyer of theirs has to sign a paper that goes back to the whosalers and is gone over by the FDA every few months.
It pretty much makes getting CB animals into the main stream pretty much impossible unless the breeders themselves are selling the babies.
That way they aren't connected with a business, hopefully, which makes selling turtles and tortoises under 4 inches perfectly legal.
I wish it was different, but until the law is repealed it will make it that much harder to legally get more CB animals on the market.

Danny
 

oswego tort lover

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dan would you please tell us who this wholesaler in fl. is. id like to google the story. thousands of baby torts are sold every year now in the US. its been a succesfull enterprize going on 15 yrs . there is room is hatch and sell many more species. i urge all who belong to or just browse this forum to breed thier tortoises, excepting afr spurs as they grow much larger than most and are being given away as you can read in our forum . ..............ed
 

Marla

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egyptiandan said:
Very good points Marla, but your forgetting about the 4 inch law. Which says a business can't sell turtles or tortoises under 4 inches unless they are for export, education or scientific purposes.
It's all well and good to have a sign in your shop saying this, but to cover your or their butts they need to have papers saying this that the buyer has to sign. This paper work than would need to be available for the FDA to check on. They can actually go to the petshops buyers and if the buyer isn't using the animal for those three purposes they will most likely have the animal taken and be fined as well as the pet shop.
A very big wholsaler in Florida just got in trouble for selling turtles and tortoises under 4 inches. They had all their animals that size confiscated and if they still want to sell animals under 4 inches, every single buyer of theirs has to sign a paper that goes back to the whosalers and is gone over by the FDA every few months.
It pretty much makes getting CB animals into the main stream pretty much impossible unless the breeders themselves are selling the babies.
That way they aren't connected with a business, hopefully, which makes selling turtles and tortoises under 4 inches perfectly legal.
I wish it was different, but until the law is repealed it will make it that much harder to legally get more CB animals on the market.

Danny

Yes all the laws in the world will not help us if common sense is not a factor.....I know it is difficult thought, but maybe we just need to raise our babies up to four inches and if enough back yard breeders do that and sell at low prices to brokers, we might make the dream happen...lol..I know what it takes to raise a tortoise to four inches..lots and lots of love...The law needs to change or go away...
 

egyptiandan

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That would be Strictly Reptiles in Hollywood, FL. Here's the story.

________________________________________________________________________
4) Hollywood Florida Wildlife Dealer (Strictly Reptiles) Convicted And Sentenced For Illegal Turtle Sales
Press Release from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service - Southeast Region 7/14/08

R. Alexander Acosta, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, David W. Bourne, Special Agent in Charge, U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Office of Criminal Investigations, Miami Field Office, and Eddie McKissick, Miami
Resident Agent in Charge, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, announced that Strictly Reptile, Inc., of Hollywood, Florida, was convicted and sentenced today in U.S. District Court in Fort Lauderdale for its role in the illegal sale and offer for sale of undersized turtles, contrary to the Public Health Service Act, Title 42, United
States Code, Sections 271(a).

The Honorable William P. Dimitrouleas, United States District Court Judge, accepted Strictly Reptile's plea of guilty and imposed sentence in the matter. Pursuant to a written plea agreement in the case and the Court's Order, Strictly Reptile forfeited almost 7,000 turtles and tortoises seized by government agents at the business on May 2, 2008, in the course of executing a federal search warrant. The company was also ordered to pay immediately a criminal fine of $5,000 and
placed on two years' probation.

The Court further ordered Strictly Reptile to implement a business practice requiring it to secure a signed notice document from every buyer of undersized turtles that they are aware of the legal restrictions placed on the sale or holding for sale of these specimens, and to file semi-annual reports during the period of probation to the Court's Probation Officer, the United States Attorney's Office, the FDA Office of Criminal Investigations and the Fish & Wildlife Service documenting Strictly Reptile's inventory and sales of undersized turtles and providing copies of all invoices and executed notices.

According to the criminal Information and statements in court, turtles, which term under the controlling regulations encompasses all species generally referred to as turtles, tortoises, and terrapins, with the exception of marine sea turtles, are prohibited from being held for sale, intended for sale, or sold, if the turtles have carapace (shell) lengths of less than four inches, unless the sale is for bona fide scientific, educational, or exhibitional purposes, other than use as pets.

According to court statements and the history of the controlling federal regulations, the limitation was put in place in 1975 to deal with the hidden bacteriological threat posed by undersized turtles. Public health investigators had identified undersized turtles as a significant source of salmonella and other infections,particularly in small children who were prone to handling the turtles without washing their hands afterwards, or inserting the turtles into their mouths. In fact, the State of Louisiana, where many "turtle farms" were located historically, implemented state legislation to attempt to improve the sanitation issues associated with the raising and sale of baby turtles.

The Information specifically charged that Strictly Reptile had made a sale of approximately 1,000 undersized turtles on March 3, 2008, from its Hollywood business location to a tourist souvenir business in Panama City, Florida. Strictly Reptile would charge between $2.75 and $3.00 for the turtles it was supplying and the tropical department store would re-sell the turtles for $14.99 each. The government further
alleged that the principal of Strictly Reptile admitted to investigators that he engaged in wilful blindness, that is, intentionally not asking customers the purpose for which the turtles were being purchased in order not to lose sales.

Mr. Acosta commended the coordinated investigative efforts of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Office of Criminal Investigations, Miami Field Office and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, who with the assistance of FDA's Center For Veterinary Medicine who brought the investigation leading to the Information.
This case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Thomas Watts-FitzGerald.

A copy of this press release may be found on the website of the United States Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Florida at www.usdoj.gov/usao/fls. Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the District Court for the Southern District of Florida at www.flsd.uscourts.gov.

Tom R. MacKenzie/Chief, Media Relations/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service - Southeast Region/1875 Century Blvd Ste 410/Atlanta, GA 30345-3319/404-679-7291 Fax:404-679-7286 Cell: 678-296-6400
http://www.fws.gov/southeast [email protected]

Danny
 
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