1. But first, a baby turtle:
Cute, right? They’re hard to resist at this age. Brightly-colored and no bigger than a coin, hatchling red-eared sliders are sold illegally throughout the United States and Canada. You’ve probably seen them in buckets, hawked by street vendors who pay little attention to their health and well-being. They’re in it to make a quick buck, after all. They don’t tell you that this little baby will grow up quickly. They don’t tell you how to care for him. This is a serious problem, and one that endangers the welfare of thousands of reptiles every day.
2. This is Audrey:
Audrey was born around 1990 and spent most of her life in a bucket. She subsisted on egg whites and had little space for exercise. Over time, her shell started to look strange: individual scutes warped in lumpy, asymmetrical ways and her carapace twisted upwards like an umbrella caught in a storm. Audrey needed help, but didn’t get it for twenty years.
It’s an unfortunate misconception that the tiny turtles sold in buckets remain tiny. In reality, they grow, and they grow quickly. The initial years of growth are especially crucial to a turtle’s health. Turtles have many requirements: heating, for one, because they are ectothermic and cannot self-regulate their own temperature. To translate: their immune systems depend on an external heating source, such as a basking light, a heater, or direct sunlight. They need specific diets, rich in calcium, and UVA and UVB lighting to provide them with the ability to metabolize that calcium. If they don’t, turtles can end up with soft shells or deformities like Audrey’s, which are sadly all too common.
Let me just drive home the seriousness of this type of abnormality: Audrey’s shell is part of her skeleton. The warped bone constricts and squashes her internal organs. Her growth and diet must be monitored carefully to minimize further damage.
Do you have a baby turtle or know of a friend who has one? Baby turtles are often impulse buys. Like any pet, you should thoroughly research its needs before taking it home. Because look: Audrey was once a cute little hatchling too.
5. So what happened to Audrey?
When her owner died, she was brought to a vet to be terminated. Thankfully for Audrey, the vet decided to find her a new home instead. Today Audrey lives at LittleResQ, a turtle rescue and rehabilitation organization located in Toronto, Canada, where she receives appropriate care and lots of love. Audrey is LittleResQ’s spokes-turtle against animal cruelty. With any luck, her story will save many lives by encouraging turtle owners to take better care of their pets.