CHILDREN BE ALLOWED TO KEEP PET TURTLES?
to a recent news article, Tennessee is outlawing keeping turtles
as pets in the state because they can harbor deadly bacteria, including
salmonella. State wildlife agencies in most states, including
Tennessee, do an outstanding job of connecting the public with nature.
So I contacted the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency to see if contracting
salmonella was really a concern and learn what other factors might be
in play. I was told that one reason for the regulation is indeed to
reduce the possibility of someone getting salmonella from turtles.
bacteria cause a not-so-pleasant digestive system ailment (salmonellosis).
Many salmonella strains exist, and the virulence to humans varies greatly.
A persons health, age, and physical condition are also factors.
Few people require medication to recover safely from salmonellosis.
Like many other illnesses, it can have dire consequences in extreme
situations, but the probabilities of contracting a serious case are
turtles often carry salmonella, pet turtles do not head the CDCs
list of probable causes of salmonellosis. The most likely culprits are
undercooked poultry, ground beef and eggs. The risk of contracting salmonella
from handling turtles, in the wild or at home, is low. Certainly, we
should be aware of potential hazards of keeping any animal as a pet,
but we ought to also do a risk-benefit analysis. If an animal is healthy
and has sanitary living quarters, educational and entertainment benefits
often outweigh risks.
are no different from other pets, including dogs and cats. Some work
out well; some do not. People with chronic illnesses, as well as infants
and the elderly, may be more susceptible to salmonella than healthy
adults; nonetheless, the risk of contracting salmonellosis is low. Many
environmental educators see no problem with children handling pet reptiles
as long as standard hygiene practices are followed, such as keeping
hands away from the face until they are washed with soap and water.
Understanding cleanliness procedures is critical for any pet owner,
including the importance of keeping a pet turtles aquarium clean
at all times.
my first turtle when I was 5. Since then I have handled countless reptiles
and have never been afflicted by salmonella. My students and I have
dealt with more than 60,000 turtles and snakes over the past four decades.
No one has contracted salmonellosis from the animals, presumably because
of a combination of relatively low risk and proper health and safety
the-sky-is-falling approach of government regulatory programs to most
of lifes risks; therefore, I do not support the contention that
turtles or other animals are to be feared because there might a slight
risk of their having salmonella. People should be educated about potential
hazards and precautions, such as always washing their hands after handling
an animal. But once the hazards are identified, people should be allowed
to decide which risks they and their children will take. I consider
these points pertinent with regard to the question of pet turtles in
as I suspected, there is more to the story than simply protecting people
from disease. Turns out that Tennessee claims to have the highest natural
biodiversity of any state without a coastline. To protect this natural
heritage, state officials want to restrict the removal of turtles from
the wild. In addition, they want to curtail the practice of releasing
pet turtles into natural habitats where they do not belong.
is an overblown problem. And the issue of unwanted turtles being released
into the wild should be addressed through environmental education programs.
Like others concerned with protecting our natural habitats and their
inhabitants, I am opposed to commercial sales of turtles or other wildlife
by people who use unsustainable wholesale collecting techniques. However,
kids who catch turtles that are not endangered species arent harming
the environment. As long as they remember to keep the aquarium clean
and wash their hands after touching the turtle, all should be well.
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