After what seemed like an innocent exchange, the students began to trail off, each bearing a smile and a small plastic cage.
When I investigated the cages, I found multiple aquatic turtles “swimming” in insufficient water and neon gravel.
As a self-proclaimed turtle enthusiast, I was not pleased with the living conditions that these reptiles were forced to endure.
The “special offer” of the hour was a hatchling and cage for $10. The merchants eventually admitted to me that their standard price ranges from $10-20.
When asked about their reasoning for selling the turtles, one of the men spoke about his hardship, emphasizing that he is doing “whatever is easy right now.”
“We do this because we could be selling or using drugs or robbing people,” another merchant said. “We choose to sell healthy turtles and make an honest living.”
I’ll agree that the illegal sale of turtle hatchlings is not perceived by the court to be as severe as theft or drug deals. However, it is a completely different issue and should not be compared to such crimes.
This is an animal welfare concern. Imagine if these turtles were newborn puppies – I imagine this would elicit much more action from the police and animal welfare groups. It is important to perceive the welfare of the turtles the same as we perceive the welfare of our beloved dogs.
The men said there were many occasions where Temple students walked by and claimed that the selling and housing of hatchlings in an insufficient container is inhumane.
“Of course it’s inhumane,” one of the merchants said. “These turtles aren’t human.”
That kind of statement should stand as a first warning against buying a turtle from these men. Though these merchants claim they are trying to make an honorable living, selling these turtles is anything but.
The sale of hatchling turtles puts the individuals who buy them at extreme risk for illnesses, particularly salmonella.
As a former turtle owner, I can speak to this issue. The veterinarian in my hometown would lecture relentlessly about proper handling and hand washing after an encounter with your reptile.
Without proper instruction and reminders about this, many forget the danger that their turtles pose to them.
The Public Health Services Act of 1975 banned the distribution or sale of turtles fewer than four inches long to address the growing incidence of Salmonella in the American population.
The Humane Society estimates the cost of preparing to buy a turtle to be $1,200. This figure does not include the turtle or the cost of caring for the turtle after the initial set up. Turtle ownership is a massive responsibility that requires multifarious care.
When turtles are bought off the street, the people who purchase them are not subjected to what I deem the “Petco shaming” of the corporate pet store. In most cases, the employees of businesses like Petco practically interrogate you when they get the notion that you are going to purchase one of their animals. I remember walking into Petco thinking I was going to walk out with a goldfish and actually walking out in a shroud of shame.
The employees ask questions to ensure that your home is already filled with the equipment needed to accommodate an animal of any kind and that you are going to be able to serve the animal’s best interests.
This serves an extremely important purpose as they are protecting the animals from living in environments where they will not get the highest standard of care.
Street merchants don’t offer this same form of interrogation in their services. In fact, they are practically handing the animals to those who pass.
The same turtles that they transport in their clear plastic backpacks to Temple are housed in crates and are packed on top of each other with no regard for the turtles’ safety. Bedding this industry allows the further perpetuation of turtle deaths and illegal sales.
As responsible students, it is important to recognize it’s not OK to financially back a business that puts living creatures at risk for illness and death. While what these turtle salesmen are doing is not as bad as selling drugs, they are exploiting these tiny animals as well as the people who buy them.
These dishonest merchants are attempting to profit off a helpless animal that would be much safer living in the wild. Temple students should not support an illegal industry that encourages the improper handling and care for these gentle reptiles.
Taylor Spoon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org