Monday, June 29, 2009

S. to the Rescue?

Turtle Schnoz

Is this some kind of animal rescue week? On Saturday I went for a walk and discovered a feral kitten. I spent some time trying to catch it feeling concerned that it was on its own and likely to die. The little thing was vicious. It hissed and spit at me and ultimately took off so fast I couldn't catch it. I think this was likely a good thing. I would have been clawed half to death trying to get the wee beastie home, probably one of the onlookers would have accused me of animal abuse, and once I got it home I would have exposed my cats to whatever diseases it was carrying. Not to mention the family's heart strings being plucked. I could just hear the begging. Please, please, please can we keep it? Then the trip to the vet and/or shelter, etc. So mercifully for me if not for the cat, it got away.
Then yesterday I was tempted to rescue a few baby turtles. For this I need to give you a bit of a backstory. When I adopted Dandelion, the box turtle, I joined two turtle listservs on Yahoo. They have been quite the education about turtle life style and diet as well as some funny stories about life with some of the larger tortoises.
I've also heard from people who are passionate about turtles and whose lives turn around them. Some are biologists, some vets and others are involved in turtle rescue projects. They rescue turtles from bad homes and from habitat loss in the wild. Some are found injured on roads or in back yards and rehabilitated.
From them, I've learned that some turtles and tortoises are in over supply and some are endangered. And that these are high maintenance pets. Dandelion will never weigh much more than a pound but may outlive me. She needs a varied diet with calcium and vitamin supplements yet is a picky eater. I have to watch for beak overgrowth, various infections, shell pyramiding and other woes. If well treated she may outlive me. I'm only glad my son didn't convince me to adopt a cute little tortoise. It sounds like having a cow live in your basement from the stories I've heard.
Anyway, I also learned that the turtle-for-pet trade is quite regulated. So when I saw three wee little turtles in plastic carrying cases in a Chinatown gift shop yesterday, I knew that their sale is probably not legal. I knew that the babies were likely doomed to an early death due to neglect or uninformed care. I also knew that when grown those babies would require the equivalent of a small pond to be well maintained. I restrained myself and did not buy the babies, lecture the owners, or turn them in to the authorities.
Then I wandered on still feeling vaguely guilty. I next went in to a Chinese grocery and picked up some long string beans and some baby bok choy. I roamed through the seafood part of the store where you can see tanks of live fish, crab and molluscs. And there right in front was a tank full of live turtles. There were smallish turtles that I'm guessing are sliders, and some very large (and fairly ugly) turtles that I could not identify. Now that I have a pet turtle, eating turtle makes me a little squeamish. Like most omnivorous Americans, I don't like seeing where my meat comes from. Not that eating turtle is less humane than eating cow or chicken. I know hypocrisy when I see it.
It also made me think. Should a no-doubt innocent Chinese shop keeper get in trouble for selling babies of an animal that is widely regarded as food? In retrospect, if I had said something about the unkindness of keeping baby turtles, I would have made a royal ass out of myself.
Moral of the story? No doubt Aesop or La Fontaine would have said it better but here's my take:
One man's cat is another man's dinner.
Take that!


Jud said...

Very interesting, indeed. I can recall bringing home a variety of turtles as a boy. Inevitably I would be allowed to keep them for a day or two, at which point my dad the zoologist made me release them back into the wild. Same thing with toads, horned toads and tarantulas.

The only turtles I can ever recall being presented on the table as "dinner" were snapping turtles. These were large ugly beasties. I seem to recall my dad catching them as one would catch fish on a static line in a pond where we would also fish for catfish.

I seem to recall a large bit of meat coming from these antediluvian looking critters. In my adult life I don't think I have encountered turtles as food. I am not disappointed.

A Free Man said...

Different cultures, different mores, eh? What's appalling to us may be normal to them. Of course it works both ways, maybe there are some cultures that find scantily clad teenage girls dancing on the television morally abhorrent?