Today is World Turtle Day! It’s meant to raise awareness about turtles and why we should all be making an effort to protect them.

Among vertebrate orders, turtles are second only to primates in the percentage of threatened species; 61% of the 356 modern species are considered threatened or already extinct. Poaching—driven by a growing demand for pets in the U.S., Asia and Europe—is contributing to the global decline of rare freshwater turtle and tortoise species. Other wild species are captured and sold to collectors or taken for commercial breeding, food, decorative products and traditional medicine. Since 2018, the Collaborative to Combat the Illegal Trade in Turtles—an organization that combats poaching of North American turtles—has documented at least 30 major smuggling cases in 15 states.

Plus, this ancient species faces threats from habitat destruction, climate change and road mortality. Rising temperatures and erratic weather patterns disrupt nesting and feeding grounds affecting their survival and breeding cycles.

American Tortoise Rescue, which founded World Turtle Day in 2000, points out we can make a difference and ensure turtles and tortoises don’t become extinct as experts predict by 2050 by doing the following things:

● Lend a helping hand: If it’s possible to help a turtle cross a roadway safely, carry the turtle in the direction in which it’s headed. Many people are tempted to relocate the turtle from the busy roadside to a “better place” down the road or across town, but turtles have very small home ranges, and studies indicate that their survivability depends on staying “at home.” Approach the turtle from behind and pick it up with two hands in the middle of the turtle’s shell like a veggie burger using gloves if available. Never pick a turtle up by the tail.

● Don’t ever keep a wild turtle as a pet. Wild turtles belong in the wild, where they can live their lives and contribute to the declining turtle population. Every individual is important!

● Educate: Help spread awareness about the challenges that turtles and tortoises face. Reach out to schools, communities, and online platforms to share the stories. 

● Advocate: Support legislation that protects turtles and tortoises from habitat destruction and the illegal pet trade. You can google these terms to find organizations in your state. As an example, California imports thousands of turtles taken from the wild, perhaps even in your state, for the pet trade and live food markets. 

● NEVER buy turtles. Organizations like American Tortoise Rescue have 30 years dedicated to rescuing and rehoming turtles and tortoises in need. Support efforts of the many turtle rescues throughout the world that provide adoption.

● Conserve Habitats: Participate in conservation projects aimed at protecting the habitats these creatures call home. Whether it’s coastal cleanups or protesting development on land where turtles have lived for years.