Archive for the 'Turtles' Category



How the Global Pet Trade is Impacting the Survival of Many Exotic Species

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When it comes to pets, most people are content keeping traditional cats and dogs while others desire animals with a more exotic flair. Pet stores and online vendors offer the potential exotic pet owner an abundance of wildlife, ranging from parrots and marmosets to cobras and scorpions. Sadly, many recipients of exotic wildlife are unaware that their purchases may support a trade that is often illegal, inhumane, or detrimental to wild populations.

It may come as a surprise to many that the United States is one of the largest importers of live animals in the world with over one billion live animals imported since the year 2000. Various regulatory agencies strive to control this trade. The US Fish and Wildlife Service is responsible for enforcing not only its own internal regulations but also those regulations that fall under the auspices of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

In addition, the U.S. Public Health Service and the U.S. Department of Agriculture enforce various aspects of live animal importations that seek to prevent the introduction and spread of emerging diseases that affect the health of both humans and domestic livestock. Imports of pet Bell’s Hingeback Tortoise’s were banned when tortoise borne ticks were found to contain Heartwater Disease, a serious threat for wild and domestic ruminants.

In 2003 African Monkey Pox was introduced when shipments of Gambian Pouched Rats, destined for the pet trade, were imported into this country. The scale of the global wildlife trade, both legal and illegal is staggering. It has been estimated that the illegal wildlife trade ranks just behind the trade in illegal arms and narcotics in terms of scope and finances. Earlier this year, 54 critically endangered Madagascar Plowshare tortoises were confiscated by authorities in Thailand. Destined for the high-end illegal pet trade, an adult tortoise of this species might sell for $50,000 – this one shipment represented approximately 10 percent of the world’s remaining population of plowshare tortoises.

plowshare tortoise

A plowshare tortoise.

For those who still wish to maintain non-traditional pets, know that these non-traditional pets require a substantial commitment. The desire to own an exotic pet often clouds ones judgment. Rescue groups are overflowing with unwanted parrots and other exotic animals, relinquished because former owners underestimated the time, money, and commitment it requires to adequately maintain these animals within their homes. In many cases exotic pet owners, ignorant of state or local laws that prohibit the keeping of certain species, have had their animals seized by law enforcement or been forced to surrender them. Responsible and successful maintenance of an exotic pet requires careful sourcing along with substantial research, finances, time commitment, and an honest discussion as to one’s ability to meet the requirements, both physical and psychological, of the species in question.

Blog-Header-KenHowell

Thoughtful Thursdays: Endangered Species Spotlight on Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtles

Endangered Species Day, celebrated on May 17th, was established to raise awareness of the issues (both human-related and ecological) facing endangered species and their habitats. 

To help further amplify this day, we’ll be highlighting some endangered species that can be found in our home state of Maryland, at the National Aquarium and around the world! Our hope is that as this week progresses, others will feel inspired to help us protect these amazing animals! 

Animal Rescue Update

Kemp’s ridley Lepidochelys kempii sea turtles are the smallest of all the sea turtle species and are listed as “critically endangered” by the IUCN. “Small” is a relative term for sea turtles, as the Kemp’s can weigh as much as 80 to 100 pounds as adults, and their shell can grow to about 2 feet long. Their carapace (top shell) is usually heart-shaped and brown to grey in color.

kemp's ridley

A rehabilitated Kemp’s ridley turtle being released by National Aquarium staff.

Kemp’s ridley’s are highly migratory and seasonal visitors to Maryland waters. They can often be found in coastal areas, including the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic coast, from late May to October. While here, they feed on an assortment of crabs, shellfish and jellies, and will occasionally munch on seaweed. Cooler water temperatures in the fall signal the turtles to migrate south – reptiles are ectothermic, meaning their internal body temperature is dependent on the water temperature.

kemp's ridley

One of our current rehabilitation patients munching on a blue crab.

Along the northeast and mid-Atlantic in late fall and early winter, Kemp’s can become victims of cold-stunning. Cold-stunning is effectively hypothermia (low body temperature), which causes the turtles to stop eating and ultimately become severely sick. The 2012 cold-stun season was a record for the northeast. We currently have two Kemp’s ridley sea turtles in rehabilitation with our National Aquarium Animal Rescue team, and both were admitted as cold-stuns.

kemp's ridley

Since being listed as an Endangered Species in 1994, the US and Mexico have worked cooperatively to protect critical nesting habitats for the Kemp’s, resulting in an increase in successful nesting and hatching. Kemp’s still face many threats, though, many of which are human-related. The good news is that YOU can help protect Kemp’s ridley sea turtle populations!

Stay tuned for more features on endangered species this week! 

Blog-Header-JennDittmar

Endangered Species Week: The Bog Turtle

Endangered Species Day, celebrated on May 17th, was established to raise awareness of the issues (both human-related and ecological) facing endangered species and their habitats. 

To help further amplify this day, we’ll be highlighting some endangered species that can be found in our home state of Maryland, at the National Aquarium and around the world! Our hope is that as this week progresses, others will feel inspired to help us protect these amazing animals! 

Meet the Bog Turtle.

bog turtle

The bog turtle is the smallest species of turtle found in the United States (and one of the smallest species of turtle in the world)! Easy identified by the orange blotches found on either side of its head, this turtle gets its name from the areas of moist, soggy ground within wetlands known as “bogs.”

Bog turtles are only commonly found throughout the Northeast coast and, unfortunately, populations have been seriously impacted by the effects of climate change. Erratic weather patterns, in particular, throw a wrench in the fragile balance between these turtles and their habitat. Other major factors for their population decline include habitat loss, due to human construction and development, as well as a high demand for the pet trade.

This species was granted protection under the Endangered Species Act in 1997 – at which time, the northern population of bog turtles (from New York to Maryland) had declined by 50 percent.

Currently, the total number of bog turtles found in the United States is unknown. The estimated range is only between 2,500 and 10,000 turtles.

Want to help the bog turtle? Join us at our next habitat restoration event!

Stay tuned for more Endangered Species Week features! 

Thoughtful Thursdays: Local Students Release Their Terrapins!

Since September, students from 32 schools across Maryland have cared for baby turtles in their classrooms. Through the National Aquarium’s Terrapins in the Classroom program, hatchling diamondback terrapins are collected from Poplar Island in late summer and placed in partner schools. Throughout the year, students gain basic husbandry skills, collect growth data, and learn about the natural history of the Maryland state reptile.

“This is a once in a school-time experience,” said Andrew Hiller, a 5th grader from Naval Academy Primary School.

terrapin release

Thanks to the student’s dutiful care, the terrapins more than doubled in size and were ready to be released! Students and teachers took a boat ride to the island and a tour of the wetlands where the terrapins hatched. After carefully selecting a spot on the edge of the wetland, the students said goodbye to their terrapins and released them into the water.

“It was pretty exciting, letting it go. Even though it was nice having it, it was good to see it go have its own life,” said Matthew Szakmeister, a 2nd grader from Bushy Park Elementary School.

diamondback terrapin

Caring for, learning about, and releasing these turtles creates a unique and important connection between students and the natural world. Through this hands-on approach to conservation, our program hopes to inspire life-long environmental stewardship!

You can do your part to help diamondback terrapins by practicing turtle-safe crabbing this summer! Watch this video to learn how!

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M6Akh9fNdFI&feature=youtu.be]

Animal Health Update: Diagnostic MRI and CT Scans for Snake-Necked Turtle

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Recently, the National Aquarium’s Animal Health team worked with Veterinary Imaging of the Chesapeake to perform a diagnostic MRI on our 17-year-old female snake-necked turtle.

Our snake-necked turtle undergoing a CT scan. Photo courtesy of Veterinary Imaging of the Chesapeake.

Our snake-necked turtle undergoing a CT scan. Photo courtesy of Veterinary Imaging of the Chesapeake.

The Animal Health team was initially alerted after exhibit staff observed the turtle basking more frequently. Increased basking, also known as environmental hyperthermia, is a potential indicator of either illness or egg laying. After radiographs confirmed that the turtle had no eggs, we decided to do a CT and MRI to diagnose what was causing the turtle to exhibit this abnormal behavior.

turtle x-ray

X-rays taken of the snake-necked turtle, courtesy of Veterinary Imaging of the Chesapeake.

Partnerships with organizations like Veterinary Imaging of the Chesapeake grant our team much-need access to the kinds of medical scanners that the Aquarium doesn’t have on-site.

We’re happy to report that both scans came back normal and the turtle did later develop eggs. She was moved behind-the-scenes for close observation, has laid two eggs so far and continues to do very well.

Blog-Header-LeighClayton

Animal Rescue Update: Loggerhead Hatchling Scheduled for Release!

National Aquarium’s Animal Rescue team has just received word that the loggerhead hatchling we rescued in October has passed his exit exam and will be released off the coast of North Carolina tomorrow (weather permitting)!

The loggerhead hatchling during it's exit exam earlier today!

The loggerhead hatchling during it’s exit exam earlier today!

First discovered on Assateague Island National Seashore just days before Hurricane Sandy, our team rescued and began caring for this loggerhead sea turtle hatchling. This was the first time our team had ever spotted a viable sea turtle hatchling on Maryland shores and the youngest turtle patient we’ve ever had at the Animal Care Center. Once it was deemed strong and healthy enough, the hatchling was transported to North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores for further care.

We’re so thrilled that this little guy has continued to grow and is now ready to be released back into the ocean!

Stay tuned for a re-cap of his release!

Thoughtful Thursdays: Collaborative Conservation Efforts In the Name of Sea Turtles!

Animal Rescue Update

Staff with the National Aquarium’s Marine Animal Rescue Program (MARP) recently returned from a several-day road trip adventure named ‘Sea Turtle Trek’ to transport and release 52 endangered sea turtles off the Florida coast. National Aquarium joined staff from the New England Aquarium to transport the precious cargo from both of our facilities and several of our regional stranding partners, including University of New England Marine Animal Rehabilitation Center, National Marine Life Center, Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation, Virginia Aquarium, South Carolina Aquarium.

The turtles that were transported for release had stranded during the record-breaking 2012 cold-stun season and were treated at the rehabilitation facilities mentioned above.

The overall transport began around 5 am on Saturday, April 6th in Biddeford, Maine and finally arrived to the release beach just north of Jacksonville, Florida around 9:30 am on Sunday, April 7. During the transport, we stopped several times to meet our partners and pick up additional turtles.

By the last stop to meet the South Carolina Aquarium, the transport staff were challenged to make all of the transport boxes fit safely into the four Chevrolet Suburban’s – it was like a big game of Tetris at 5 am!

By the last stop to meet the South Carolina Aquarium, the transport staff were challenged to make all of the transport boxes fit safely into the four Chevrolet Suburban’s – it was like a big game of Tetris at 5 am!

The turtles rode in a climate controlled environment, and were monitored by biologists from both transporting facilities. Since turtles have all the same bodily functions as every other animal, the staff were relieved to stop for short breaks every few hours and catch some fresh air.

After arriving to the release location, the turtles were unloaded from the vehicles to adjust to the sunlight and warm Florida weather. Staff massaged the turtles’ muscles to combat possible muscle fatigue, and many of the turtles became quite active in their transport crates. Finally, the turtles were lined up on the beach by facility and released in groups.

SeaTurtleTrek release

It’s always interesting to see all the individual personalities of the turtles – some turtles take off for the water as quickly as possible and don’t look back, while others need a little more coaxing.

seaturtletrek team

Turtle releases are always a cause for celebration, and this one was no exception. Staff gathered for lots of photos with the turtles, and several group photos after the releases.

Staff then celebrated with a much needed lunch on the water near the release location, where there were lots of smiles and sharing of photos from the release. By 4pm we were back on the road again and headed north to our overnight location of Jekyll Island, GA. Our friends at the Georgia Sea Turtle Center were gracious enough to let us use their facility to accomplish our final task of the day –cleaning transport crates. The team came together to wash, disinfect, and dry 52 transport crates in just under 40 minutes. By the time the vehicles were packed up with clean crates, we were ready for showers, some dinner, and lots of sleep!

52 clean transport crates_PC NEAq

Photo via New England Aquarium

After breakfast the following morning, we took a short walk on Driftwood Beach at Jekyll Island – the beach there is amazing, and a photographers dream. After the walk, we returned to the Georgia Sea Turtle Center to meet with our colleagues, tour the facility, and listen to a lecture from Dr. Terry Norton. After visiting the gift shop and saying good-bye to the wonderful staff at Georgia Sea Turtle Center, it was time to travel north once again and head home.

Driftwood Beach

This collaborative transport and release event is a true testament as to how stranding and conservation organizations work together to accomplish a common goal. We collectively responded to a record cold-stun season by bringing staff, resources, and facilities together to save as many endangered sea turtles as possible. The staff commitment from all these facilities is never in question – whether it’s providing animal care on holidays, responding to stranding events at moment’s notice, or traveling the entire East coast to transport and release turtles – we’re in it together!

Blog-Header-JennDittmar


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