The launch of a new Ninja Turtle film this month has prompted a stark warning from Scarborough Sea Life Centre for people who may be tempted to pick the animal as a pet.
The centre’s marine experts fear a fresh spate of people buying cute baby turtles and terrapins, oblivious of the care they need, how long they live and how big they grow.
“The Ninja Turtle franchise led to hundreds of thousands of pet turtles being bought, and many of them later having to be re-homed by wildlife charities and aquariums, or just abandoned in rivers and streams,” said senior aquarist Todd German.
“It was the reason why attractions like Scarborough Sea Life had to set up Turtle Sanctuaries to house a range of species that had outgrown home aquarium tanks or been seized by Customs officers on their arrival in the country.”
But Mr German added that most facilities had reached capacity, and were having to turn down appeals from desperate owners anxious to be rid of their fast-growing and expensive-to-keep pets.
“We had three living in quarantine for nine months awaiting a move to our sister attraction in Hunstanton,” he added.
“Since they arrived we have been getting a couple of calls every week asking if we could take in others, and we have had to refuse.”
The shortage of available homes has led thousands of owners to simply dump their turtles or terrapins in the countryside, which presents a serious threat to endemic wildlife.
“They can’t breed successfully in our climate, but they can survive quite cold winters and they are voracious predators which out-compete many other native freshwater species for available food,” said Todd.
Hence an appeal to cinema-goers to resist the urge to invest in their own pet turtle will be a core theme of the Centre’s Turtle Festival, which launches on Saturday for two weeks.
“It is primarily about sea turtle conservation and will include special talks and feeding demonstrations as well as specially themed quiz-trails and face-painting,” said Todd.
“But as the new film is hitting screens this month we will also be raising awareness of the problem of abandoned freshwater turtles, and urging everyone we talk to avoid becoming turtle owners themselves, and discourage others too if they can.”