Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Released terrapins give added headache to wildlife experts

Efforts to make urban ponds more wildlife-friendly are being hampered by exotic terrapins, say Amphibian and Reptile Conservation.

The charity’s urban pond regeneration scheme will leave their staff with a unique problem: how to find new homes for exotic terrapins, which, when caught during pond clean-ups, are prohibited by law from being re-released.

Originating from warmer climes, terrapins find it too cold to breed in the United Kingdom – but ‘populations’ have built up following several decades of former owners dumping unwanted pets into urban ponds and lakes.

“Wildlife conservationists have long been aware of the unwelcome effects of releasing non-native plants and animals into the wild – but lately terrapins are proving to be a new headache,” said Rebecca Turpin, London Living Water Officer at Amphibian and Reptile Conservation.

“Much of our work involves making ponds more wildlife-friendly, but if terrapins are caught we are then faced with the problem of where to re-home them. Often terrapins end up being taken to animal rescue centres, but sadly many are either full, or lack the finances to look after an animal which can live for over twenty years.”

Amphibian and Reptile Conservation is calling for the public to think carefully about buying terrapins over the Christmas period, which is a boom-time for sales of exotic reptiles.

“Baby terrapins might seem attractive pets. But they can grow to the size of a dinner plate. The importation of one species, the red-eared terrapin, was banned over ten years ago - but we’re still finding them in urban ponds because they can live for several decades.” said John Baker, Conservation Officer at Amphibian and Reptile Conservation.

“More recently, their numbers have been reinforced by other terrapin species that have taken the place of red-ears in the pet trade.” added Dr Baker.

“Terrapins are best left to specialist pet-keepers. They’re not a suitable pet for casual interest and they certainly shouldn’t be purchased as a present at Christmas - or any other time.”

Amphibian and Reptile Conservation is calling on the public to report sightings of exotic amphibian and reptile species (including terrapins) seen in the wild. For more information see the website, Alien Encounters - www.alienencounters.org.uk

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