Jul 22, 2010 4:56 PM by Zach Thaxton

Roadside Baby Turtle Sales: Buyer Beware

Colorado Springs reptile shop Scales 'N Tails has been overrun this week with people bringing in baby turtles they bought from roadside sellers.  They know this is just the start.

In recent weeks, reports have surfaced of roadside sellers in Colorado Springs offering baby turtles for around $10 apiece.  The sellers are usually of Hispanic descent and speak broken English.  The sellers offer the baby turtles at various locations across town.  News First 5 has been told the sellers have set up their stands in the areas of Austin Bluffs Parkway and North Academy Boulevard as well as North Academy near the Chapel Hills Mall, but they change locations daily, or even multiple times per day.  The sellers offer a small aquarium and some food to accompany the purchase.  This is a death sentence for the turtles, according to reptile experts.  It's also illegal. Federal law prohibits the sale of turtle eggs or turtles less than 4 inches in length.

Chad Brinkley, manager of Scales 'N Tails Exotic Reptile Pet Shop in the Woodmen Crossing shopping center at Woodmen Road and North Academy Boulevard, says, "I keep having people come in and ask me, 'My turtle's not eating, it's not doing anything.'"  He says the turtles need ultraviolet lighting, heat lighting, heated and filtered water, and a dry area to rest and digest food.  "If they don't have this, they're not going to survive," Brinkley says, "and they're not going to live well."  The small aquariums are insufficient to sustain life for the baby turtles, which only have a 10 percent statistical probability of surviving their first year anyway.

Brinkley says buyers of the baby turtles are making an impulse decision and are typically oblivious to the basic costs and requirements to ensure a turtle's health and survival.  "A starter setup is going to run you $200 to $300," he says.  "Over a lifetime, they're going to need a 75-gallon tank.  That tank alone is $150, not including the stand or screen top or extra lighting and filtration you'll need."  He says the few turtles that survive can live up to 30 years -- a life span which typically outlasts an owner's ability or desire to provide sufficient care.

Bryan Davis of Colorado Springs took the bait.  He came across a baby turtle stand along North Academy Boulevard and couldn't resist making a purchase.  "I stopped and they were little teeny guys and they were really cute," Davis said. "They were only $10 and he was selling a little cage and food, so I thought it was a good deal and I bought it."  Only days later, he went to Scales 'N Tails to ask the experts why his new turtle wasn't eating.  He says he now plans on bringing the turtle in to Scales 'N Tails to allow them to raise it.  Davis is not alone.  Brinkley says 14 people have brought in similar baby turtles in just four days.

Colorado Springs police say they're unaware of the turtle sellers.  A spokesman says a call of inquiry from News First 5 on Thursday was the first the department had heard of the problem and, as such, the department has not formulated a plan for enforcement yet.  The Colorado Division of Wildlife says sales of turtles from roadside stands is not in violation of any state laws, so the obligation of enforcement would fall on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Turtles are known carriers of salmonella, especially baby turtles.  Brinkley says after handling any reptile or their food or enclosures, hand-washing is essential to prevent possible illness.  Michael Seraphin from the Colorado Division of Wildlife says that many unwanted turtles are dumped in streams or ponds.  Brinkley says dumped turtles will die because they are not native to Colorado's cold, dry climate.


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