A recent increase in calls about recovering ornate box turtles from the wild is prompting the Arizona Game and Fish Department to remind the public that in Arizona it has been illegal to collect box turtles from the wild since 2005.
Only those box turtles held legally prior to January 1, 2005 is allowed, said Regional Supervisor Raul Vega of Game and Fish in Tucson.
“Keep wild turtles wild. Do not collect a box turtle if you encounter one in the wild,” Vega said. “By bringing it home you are dooming it to a life in captivity, because a captive turtle can never be released back into the wild.”
Vega noted that removing a box turtle from the wild can severely affect local populations because turtles grow and reproduce slowly. Captive turtles released into the wild can severely jeopardize local wild turtle populations through the introduction of diseases and parasites, and can displace individuals or populations of wild box turtles by competing for resources, he added.
“Watch and enjoy box turtles, but avoid contact. If you observe an ornate box turtle in the wild, it is best to let it continue on its way. Do not disturb it by picking it up,” said Game and Fish Urban Wildlife Specialist Locana de Souza. “The one exception to this rule is if a turtle is in harm’s way trying to cross a road. If it is safe to do so, gently lift the turtle just high enough so its feet are just above the ground and transport it across the road in the direction it was heading.”
Game and Fish also suggests:
- Become a citizen scientist - participate in the Ornate Box Turtle Watch. The ornate box turtle is thought to be in decline in Arizona. Help the Arizona Game and Fish Department monitor this species by reporting any observations of wild box turtles in Arizona. Find out about the program at: http://www.azgfd.gov/w_c/boxturtlewatch.shtml.
- Participate in the Sponsor-a-Turtle program. The Arizona Game and Fish Department Turtles Project utilizes technical equipment such as radio-telemetry tags, GPS units, and hoop traps to survey and monitor turtle populations statewide. By donating to the Turtles Project, you will help project biologists purchase this gear so that they may continue to plan and implement conservation and management. For more information, see: http://www.azgfd.gov/w_c/documents/Sponsor-A-TurtleProgrambrochureFinal.pdf
- Practice responsible Off Highway Vehicle (OHV) use. Ornate box turtle habitat in Arizona is limited and is sensitive to degradation. Using OHVs in unauthorized areas can result in loss and destruction of habitat through the degradation of native vegetation, spread of invasive plant species, and soil erosion. Please stay on roads and trails, and do not trample vegetation.
- If you have a captive ornate box turtle from Arizona that you can no longer care for, contact Game and Fish in Tucson at 628-5376.