Thursday, May 17, 2007

Turtle pets

Yeah, it's really been over a week since I posted. I've been busy working on a couple of projects. More on this sometime in the future.

Driving in to work this morning I heard on NPR that the U.S. Senate is looking to legalize pet baby turtles. I remember when I was in junior high school my mother warned me, for whatever reason, that turtles were not safe pets. Back in the mid-70s baby turtles, usually red-eared sliders from Louisiana, were all the rage. They were small, and they were easy to care for. Unfortunately, 30% of them had salmonella (according to NPR).

Apparently a lot of them were harvested in water that was close to sewer outlets. Reptiles in general are susceptible to salmonella (as are chickens; wonder if their common ancestors, the dinosaurs, carried salmonella?). Adults know enough to wash their hands after handling a reptile. These little turtles were often the pets of small children, who would sometimes put them in their mouths (and never washed up afterwards).

A lot of kids got sick, and at least one child died. In 1976 the U.S. government outlawed the sale of the turtles. You can still buy them from people breaking the law; charging vendors of baby turtles is not high on the government's list of important criminal activity.

Recently the U.S. Senate passed a law that would remove the ban on their sale. The House of Representatives will vote on it in June. The baby turtle industry has literally cleaned up its act. The turtles are now being farm raised in Louisiana. One farmer on the radio discussed the procedure they use to clean the eggs. The FDA isn't happy about it as they still see them as a health risk. Salmonella in the turtles has been reduced from 30% to 1%, but to the FDA it still seems to be too high. It's likely, though, that the ban will be lifted. I guess there must be an unusually strong turtle lobby.

Here's the humane society's page on the turtles. They are against the sale of the animals, citing a 100% mortality rate within the first year due to improper feeding and handling of the creatures.

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