The new law aims to protect the declining native species.
You may have heard about Virginia's new marijuana law—but in the slew of new legislation, we wanted to make sure you didn't miss this one: a pet box turtle ban. If your child begs you for a pet box turtle (as one does), or wanders in with one they picked up in the yard, simply remind little Sally or Jimmy that under the new ban, they could face a $500 fine and a misdemeanor charge!
Jokes aside, the ban comes into play to protect the declining native box turtle. While Eastern Box Turtles aren't technically endangered, they are classified as "vulnerable," with the National Wildlife Federation citing "Habitat loss, traffic incidents, and collection for the pet trade" as relevant factors. The new law is primarily concerned with the latter: "poachers, who can take animals in huge numbers." Rex Springston, reporting for Virginia Mercury, notes that "A particularly pretty box turtle can bring $20,000 in China."
But despite critics who think it's extreme to ban kids from having pet box turtles, there are reasons it extends to casual pet ownership, as well.
First, as Springston writes, "The animal can take 7 to 10 years to reach sexual maturity, (when) it produces just a handful of eggs, few of which survive predators." J.D. Kleopfer, Virginia’s state herpetologist, explained, "When you pull out these large adults, you take out the best reproducers, the best animals."
Second, Ed Clark, president of the Wildlife Center of Virginia, told Virginia Mercury that people often don't know how to provide the "complex diets" box turtles require. "When we get former pets," he said, "many have been on such calcium-deficient diets that their bones are almost transparent on X-rays. They are starving to death, with a full stomach."
Third, Kleopfer said, "Wild animals belong in the wild...We need to keep wild animals wild and common species common. Stop reducing wild animals to pets. You’ve got an animal that’s been wandering around in the woods its entire life. Suddenly you grab it out of the wild and stick it in a 10-gallon aquarium for your own personal enjoyment. That’s borderline inhumane."
In response to criticism that this move might hurt future conservation efforts by reducing interactions with nature, he told Virginia Mercury, "You can develop a love of nature without keeping wild animals in your house." He said, "People don’t say, ‘I don’t like birds because I can’t go out and collect birds.’"
Travis Anthony, president of the Virginia Herpetological Society, offers a solution: rather than bringing box turtles home, "take some great pictures, interact with it." Kleopfer agrees with this advice, telling Inside NoVA, "People can still go out, look at these turtles in the wild, pick them up and take photos. There is no need to take it home."
What if you already have a pet box turtle in your home? You can keep it—just make sure to notify the Department of Wildlife Resources. Inside NoVA reports that "a registration system should go online in early July."
And keep in mind—the ban doesn't only apply to box turtles. In an update on the legislation, Springston reports that "Previously, you could keep up to five of most...common native reptiles and amphibians...species — for example, five garter snakes, plus five bullfrogs, and so on. The new rules cut that to one — literally one animal, not one of each species — per household." While Kleopfer said of the new rule, "Nobody’s going to come after a kid’s tadpoles," the new measures are good to keep in mind.
Did you or your kids grow up with a box turtle pet? What are your thoughts on the new ban? Let us know in the comments.