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Proposed Virginia regulations would ban the keeping of box turtles as pets

Eastern Box Turtles
Eastern Box Turtles(SCDNR)
Updated: May. 20, 2021 at 12:58 PM EDT
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WAYNESBORO, Va. (WHSV) - Virginia’s wildlife agency is proposing regulations that would limit the number of reptiles and amphibians people could keep as pets, and it would ban the keeping of box turtles as pets altogether.

Currently in Virginia, people are allowed to have up to five native species of reptiles or amphibians per person.

“The new proposed rules, that would actually limit the number of reptiles and amphibians native to the state of Virginia that you could have in your possession from five down to one,” Aaron Provencio, communications coordinator for the Wildlife Center of Virginia, said. “Box turtles would be eliminated from that possible possession list entirely.”

The regulation is mainly aimed at keeping poachers from being able to sell turtles to the wildlife trade.

“You could move 20 turtles, and there’s nothing that the DWR Conservation Police could really do about it,” Provencio said.

The Division of Wildlife Resources in Virginia is monitoring box turtle populations to make sure they are maintained, and taking these animals in as pets is one reason the turtles’ population might be diminishing.

Provencio said there are a number of reasons that wild animals should remain wild.

“Box turtles, these are very long-lived individuals who spend a lot of time understanding their native area to find food, water, shelter and resources, and so taking that animal who has lived its entire long life, as these turtles can, from the wild and putting it into a small, captive setting, is not necessarily very humane for that animal,” Provencio said.

While box turtles are not endangered at the moment, there are conservation concerns surrounding this population due to human activity minimizing habitat space. Provencio noted that keeping as many native species in their natural living environment as possible will help protect them moving forward.

Eastern box turtles are one of the most common patients of the Wildlife Center of Virginia. They often get hit by cars when crossing roads, but Provencio said they also see turtles come in that have been kept as pets.

“Unfortunately, they were not given the correct nutrients, the correct care to mimic their wild lives is a very difficult thing to do in captivity,” Provencio said.

Those opposed to the new regulations say it takes away from children being able to learn from the animal by taking it in.

“There is a lot of value in allowing people, children especially, to interact with wild animals. Here at the Wildlife Center of Virginia, we have a pretty robust education ambassador team that allows us to give, not only children but members of the public in general, the opportunity to interact with incredible, wild animals in a very intimate setting,” Provencio.

People can also interact with these animals by just getting outside and seeing them in their natural habitat, rather than bringing them into a captive setting.

The regulations are set to be vote on later in May, and if passed they are expected to go into effect on July 1. Anyone who violates them could face a fine of up to $500 and be found guilty of a Class 3 misdemeanor.

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