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Mass Die-Off Of Banned Turtles Stumps Officials

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(credit: AP Photo/Apichart Weerawong)

(credit: AP Photo/Apichart Weerawong)

CBS Los Angeles (con't)

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TORRANCE (AP) — Turtles with red ears are bedeviling Southern
California marshlands and the overwhelmed owners who are releasing
them.


A report in the Daily Breeze on Saturday said wildlife officials at places like the Madrona Marsh Preserve in Torrance are finding red-eared slider turtles either dead or very sick in large numbers.


Preserve manager Tracy Drake told the newspaper she often comes across the turtles dead or extremely dehydrated.


“In the last couple of weeks I’ve found three dead ones,” Drake said. “We have people that go up to the gate at night and push them through.”


The turtles are illegal to sell in California, but they are often brought from their native Louisiana and sold when they are tiny. Owners usually abandon the high-maintenance pets when they
are about a foot long.


“We do see a lot of people buying them as pets, getting tired of them and just releasing them into the wild — and that is illegal” said Tim Hovey an assistant fisheries biologist with the
California Department of Fish and Game.


The webbed-footed, semi-aquatic turtles can grow to twice that size and live for 50 years with a proper pond, but cannot survive in most of the places they are released in Southern California.


When they do manage to survive conditions they are often picked off by raccoons. When they get into natural waterways, the red-eared sliders, aggressive in their food and reproducing habits, are a big threat to the western pond turtle, California’s native species.


Despite the dangers, the popularity of the turtles when they’re tiny is proving hard to slow down.


Chasing a tip about illegal fireworks in the San Pedro area in July, a sheriff’s task force found a stash of 10,000 of the live baby turtles.


“There were about 500 turtles in each box, and they literally exploded out of the boxes,” said Linda Crawford of the California Turtle and Tortoise club.


Crawford said the animals were filthy, and more than half died. The rest were adopted, most of them sent to Texas.


Crawford, Drake and others urged people not to buy the turtles when they find them, no matter how exotic or adorable they look when they’re tiny.


“The animal trade business is a little scary and we see the dark side of it here,” Drake said. “They have their lives and personalities. When they get abandoned, I don’t know if they think
like we do but they know they’ve been abandoned.”

TM and © Copyright 2010 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2010 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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