Turtles might be cute to look at, but they also can harbor deadly bacteria, including salmonella.
For that reason, the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency will not issue permits for pet stores to sell turtles or for people to own turtles. That means it's illegal to keep them as pets in the state - regardless of whether people find them in their front yard or bring them back as souvenirs from vacation.
Walter Cook, captive wildlife coordinator for the TWRA, says: "It's common sense."
"It's a public health concern and we have to be responsible," he says. "Being able to pull the skin and legs back into a shell creates a moist environment that aids bacteria growth. And you can't remove animals from the wild alive because they have a purpose and provide a necessary component to the ecosystem. We don't know what the population of these animals is or how many could be removed before jeopardizing the population."
For people who already keep turtles as pets, Cook says the association isn't interested in prosecuting anyone. He just hopes people will donate them to one of Tennessee's several wildlife education facilities, where the reptiles will be kept in a closed habitat to reduce the risk of spreading the deadly bacteria.
"We just don't want anybody to get sick," he says.
The TWRA can be reached at 615-781-6500 or visit them online at www.tn.gov/twra.
- Cindy Watts, The Tennessean