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I received two questions last week that are similar to ones I get each year about the dilemma facing people who have unwanted wild animals.

Q. I currently have a 2-year-old female ball python. I did not think about the long-term care for this snake. I have taken care of her well but now would like her to go to a good home. What do you recommend?


A. Taking care of a pet snake, keeping it well-fed and healthy, requires a commitment of time and energy. You are to be commended for having kept that commitment. You may be able to find someone to adopt it. Many people are looking for pet ball pythons because they do not get as large as Burmese or reticulated pythons. Check around for regional nature centers that might need the snake for educational purposes. And use social media, such as Facebook and Instagram, to inquire if anyone in your area is interested. Search the internet for state or local herpetoculture organizations to see if you can post on one of their websites. You might get some takers.

Q. We live on Long Island and acquired a baby red-eared slider turtle two years ago. We are looking to release the turtle back into its native habitat. What is a proper transition for the turtle?

A. Prospects are not good for getting rid of a pet red-eared slider humanely. Slider turtles occur naturally in all southern states and range through Central America into South America. The natural territory of the red-eared slider, a subspecies known for the colorful red blotch on the side of the head, includes western Alabama to Illinois to Mexico. Because of the attractive hatchlings and the effectiveness of turtle farms at incubating the eggs, millions of red-eared sliders have been produced and sold in the global pet trade. The problem: a cute baby slider turtle kept in a little glass bowl grows into an adult. A female can approach a foot in length.

One approach to rehoming a turtle is to check online for reptile rescue and rehabilitation centers. I asked Cris Hagen with the Turtle Survival Alliance what he recommends for getting rid of a pet slider turtle that has outgrown its welcome. Cris says, “It is a serious problem. Finding homes for red-eared sliders is incredibly difficult. Many rescue facilities won’t even take them anymore. These days it seems the best thing to do is to post ads or ask friends, family, coworkers if they know anyone who wants a pet turtle.” I hope you are able to find your slider a new home.

The availability of red-eared sliders through the international pet trade makes them easily obtainable by anybody in the United States and in many other countries as well. Most people who are looking for a pet want to get a young one. What about putting the turtle into a lake or stream? Releasing pet turtles into the wild is illegal in some states because of the chance of introducing diseases into a natural population or adding a genetic component absent in slider turtles native to a region. Plus, a bowl-raised turtle unaccustomed to avoiding predators and searching for food might not fare well in an unfamiliar environment.

The dilemma many owners of wild animals face is a consequence of their not having been told how big their pet might get nor how long it might live. Ethical pet store owners should tell every customer how big an adult turtle can be and that most are likely to live as long as a dog or cat. Numerous regulations have been put in place to protect a variety of animals from being removed from the wild. Perhaps the time has come to encourage protections for naive pet owners. What if every pet store selling a red-eared slider were required to take the animal back once the customer decided to give it up?

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Red-eared slider turtles released as unwanted pets are now established in countries around the world and are often viewed as an invasive species. Photo courtesy Jim Harding.