When I was a kid, turtles were a common pet. The local Woolworths had a tank of “red eared sliders”, and those plastic, kidney shaped tubs to house them in, with the little palm tree. Pretty much every kid had one at one time or another, and most didn’t last too long. They’d either crawl out of the tub and dry up under the couch, or meet their end in some other mishap. If they did live long enough to outgrow the pool, they’d often get released into the wild, something we all know now is a big no no.
Things have changed since then. No longer 99 cents at the department store, they can be $39.99 or more. Why so much? Well, back in the day, stores could import hatchling turtles collected in the wild, or farmed. These were really cheap. But then concerns about salmonella caused the borders to be closed to importing hatched turtles some 30 years ago.
What caused salmonella concerns? Probably the fact that farmed turtles were fed catfish guts before shipping them here, and then we fed baby turtles stuff like raw hamburger (this was before we adopted the “cook to 165” rule for ground beef).
So now, all the turtles and tortoises you see in stores are bred in Canada. A lot more expensive a proposition, you have to house, feed and care for the adults all year, just to get a clutch of eggs. And then hope they all hatch out.
And no more plastic pools for turtles, like the goldfish bowl, these inhumane habitats are not appropriate housing. A proper tank will be about 40 gallons, with a filter and a basking spot that includes UVB. Which can end up 100 times as expensive as the $3.99 palm tree pool.
But in a proper habitat, turtles can live long, healthy lives of 30 years or more. And with the right filtration and fed proper foods, they can be a breeze to care for, and no worries about salmonella (I know of more than one family that embraced the irony and named their turtles Sam and Ella).
Recently, there has been a resurgence of interest in tortoises. Whereas sliders are aquatic turtles, tortoises are land creatures. They do require the ability to bathe and soak, but they mainly stay on land, and eat a more vegetarian fare. Some box turtles can stay as small, or smaller than red ears, but most tortoises get pretty big, needing a habitat of at least 2ft x 3ft. And they live a very, very long time, so that should not be a spur of the moment decision.
Tortoises are garden pets in many countries, allowed to roam and graze in the yard. They can be taken out here too, just be sure that the yard they are in hasn’t been chemically treated for weeds or bugs, and is secure from predators. Fox and raccoons love turtles/tortoises.
They may not be cute and cuddly as a kitten, they are interesting pets regardless. And for people with allergies, they can be a great alternative pet.