World Turtle Day
May 23, 2013

It’s World Turtle Day!

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

If you see a turtle crossing a busy road — pick it up and send it in the direction it was originally going on the other side of the road, advises the advocacy group American Tortoise Rescue (ATR), which is celebrating their 13th“¯annual“¯World Turtle Day“¯2013 today. Picking up the tortoise and turning it around will only cause the slow moving animal to try crossing the road again, according to a statement put out by the group.

“World Turtle Day was started to increase respect and knowledge for the world´s oldest creatures,” said ATR founder Susan Tellem.“¯“These gentle animals have been around for about 200 million years, yet they are rapidly disappearing as a result of the exotic food industry, habitat destruction, global warming and the cruel pet trade.”

“We are seeing smaller turtles coming into the rescue meaning that older adults are disappearing from the wild thanks to the pet trade, and the breeding stock is drastically reduced,” she added.“¯“It is a very sad time for turtles and tortoises of the world.”

The organization was founded in 1990 by Tellem and Marshall Thompson, a husband and wife team. To date, they have rescued over 3,000 turtles and tortoises and provide an “in-house” sanctuary for around 125 animals, according to a statement on the website. Tellem noted that World Turtle Day has grown in popularity over the past 13 years.

“We are thrilled to learn that organizations throughout the world now are observing World Turtle Day, including those in India, Australia, the UK and many other countries,” she said.

At the ATR website, Tellem recommends several steps people can take to protect turtles in honor of World Turtle Day, including not buying a turtle or tortoise from a pet shop, contacting legislators about protecting wetlands, and reporting cruelty or illegal sales of turtles and tortoises.

“Our ultimate goal is to stop the illegal trade in turtles and tortoises around the world,” says Thompson.“¯“Our first priority here in the U.S. is to stop pet stores and reptile shows from selling illegal hatchling tortoises and turtles.”

“We also need to educate people who are unfamiliar with their proper care about the real risk of contracting salmonella from turtles,” he added.“¯“Schools and county fairs are no place for turtles. Wash your hands thoroughly every time you touch a turtle or its water, and do not bring turtles into homes where children are under the age of 12.”

To commemorate the annual event, the group has linked a contest to their official Facebook page. Entrants to the contests can win prizes and bid in a charity auction on a suit donated by Shaquille O´Neal.

Another organization, the Turtle and Tortoise Preservation Group (TTPG), sent out over 160 free Turtle Day Lesson plans and teaching materials to classrooms for over 5,500 students in commemoration of the annual event. Founded by activist Russ Gurley in 1996, the TTPG is dedicated to warning about the disappearance of turtles worldwide.