Academic journal article The American Biology Teacher

Can We Teach Proactive Turtle Conservation in Our Classrooms?

Academic journal article The American Biology Teacher

Can We Teach Proactive Turtle Conservation in Our Classrooms?

Article excerpt

Teachers get so caught up in all the mundane activities of dealing with the preparation of lesson plans, state subject standards, parent contacts, paperwork, after-school functions, and many other things that they forget that there are meaningful conservation activities with a hometown focus that can be incorporated into their lessons. Biology lessons are a lot more interesting for students when the students become involved in a proactive, long-term project. Such projects can provide opportunities for your students to collect and analyze data, to work in cooperative groups, to give oral reports, to use cross-curricular activities, and to experience real conservation efforts in a meaningful endeavor.

Here, we present an important ongoing issue that can easily be introduced through a variety of lessons to achieve results that capture the attention and interest of all students. In fact, it should be student centered, and the students can come up with their own local plan of attack. We have included some ideas for the classroom or a biology club. This is an opportunity for students to use their imagination and come up with additional scenarios.

* Myrtle Turtles: The Shell Game

As we all look forward to spring, there is one tradition that needs to stop: the sale of hatchling turtles in tourist areas. There are federal regulations banning the sale of hatchling turtles to the public because, while any reptile can carry salmonella, "baby" turtles are often purchased as children's pets, and children, besides having weaker immune systems, often put their unwashed fingers in their mouths. Yet in late May and early June of 2009, a total of 96 hatchling red-eared sliders were confiscated from two street vendors who were illegally selling the turtles on the streets of Baltimore. A Maryland Natural Resource Police officer explained to a reporter that this is an ongoing problem. In addition to illegal turtles sold by Baltimore vendors in recent years, over 1000 hatchling red-eared sliders were confiscated in Oregon in 2008, and 200 hatchling sliders were confiscated from tourist stores in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, in 2004.

Shortly after the Baltimore seizure, the turtles were turned over to a local turtle rescue. Most of the hatchlings had very soft shells, including some that would bend like tissue paper. Despite the fact that the turtles were given proper care after confiscation and were eating readily, there was 65% mortality among this group of turtles up to 6 months after confiscation. The remaining turtles are growing much slower than would be expected.

This is an all-too-common problem with turtles that are mass-produced for the pet trade, and their poor health and lack of vigor result directly from a common marketing strategy in which newly hatched turtles are forced into so-called artificial refrigerator "hibernation." The practice is inhumane by any standard, and it is unfair to the purchaser as well as the animal. The key to understanding the turtles' health issues is their size. These turtles, bred in massive southern "turtle farms," were all red-eared sliders, a turtle native to the Mississippi river system. Slider eggs hatch out in July and August. Thus, the turtles being sold on the streets of Baltimore in May were nearly a year old, yet in size they were within the normal range of fresh out-of-the egg hatchlings. Their weights told the real story. Newly hatched turtles typically weigh about 8.2 g each, but the weights of these individuals averaged only 12.9 grams even after feeding for several days after confiscation. The turtle farms and the distributors of the pet turtles are overrun with hatchlings by midsummer, and the market is soon saturated. So tens of thousands of the turtles are piled into waxed boxes and put under refrigeration with humidity levels much lower than they would be in true hibernation. In the case of the Baltimore turtles, they were apparently maintained this way, depending on their actual hatch date, for 7-10 months. …

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