OCEAN CITY – Two threatened diamondback turtles collected by a New York family on vacation in the resort area as pets found their way back home this month in a roundabout way.
The Maryland Coastal Bays Program last week received two diamondback turtles, a threatened species symbolic of the state, and with the help of volunteers, released them back into their natural habitat. The two diamondbacks were confiscated in Buffalo, N.Y. by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SCPA) in Erie County in New York from private citizens who had collected the turtles as pets while on vacation in Ocean City earlier this summer.
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYDEC) contacted the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Wildlife and Heritage department to inform them of the confiscation of the diamondback terrapins. The citizens who had collected the diamondback terrapins were issued a written warning by NYDEC.
Maryland DNR wildlife ecologist Scott Smith orchestrated the habitat confirmation, permitting and transportation for the terrapins for a release back where they belong.
Last Wednesday, the Maryland Coastal Bays Program (MCBP), with the help of volunteers, released the two rescued diamondback terrapins back into their natural habitat at an undisclosed location in West Ocean City.
The MCBP is reminding residents and visitors it is unlawful to take any diamondback terrapin, sea turtle, northern map turtle, bog turtle, spiny softshell, wood turtle of spotted turtle. It is also unlawful to sell, barter or trade a wild-caught turtle in Maryland. MCBP outreach and marketing coordinator Sandi Smith said turtles taken from the wild and held at pets often become somewhat domesticated and cannot be returned to their natural habitat.
“There is nothing humane in the capture of a wild turtle and confining it as a domestic pet,” she said. “The maintenance and dietary needs are far more labor intensive for a humane existence. Depending on the period of the collection of a wild turtle caught and held in captivity, most surrendered are no longer eligible for release back into the wild.”
Resources for re-homing a wild animal are very limited and often results in the animal being euthanized. Such was not the case last week with the two diamondbacks released on Wednesday. Beyond the collection of wild turtles for domestication, there is also an illegal demand in other countries for the collection or poaching of turtles to be shipped and sold as pets or as exotic meat or traditional medicinal purposes.
The MCBP is reminding citizens if they see pretty and interesting wildlife like terrapins, enjoy viewing them from a distance and do not take them from their habitat. If a citizen sees wildlife that appears to be injured, call a local rehabber or animal control to seek advice. If one sees what appears to be suspicious activity with the collection of wildlife, contact the DNR at 410-260-8888.