They may look like a teenage mutant ninja turtle, but keeping a pet red-eared slider turtle can land you in jail.
One of the most invasive pest species in the world, the discovery of two of the exotic turtles at a Plympton residence last week has prompted a State Government reminder that importing, keeping, breeding or trading the red-eared slider turtle is illegal.
Biosecurity Officer, Pest Animals at PIRSA Biosecurity SA, Lindell Andrews said anyone caught with them could be fined either $50,000 or imprisoned for a year.
“While these turtles are a popular pet in many countries around the world, keeping any non-native turtle is illegal in Australia,” she said.
Originally from the mid-western states of the USA and north-eastern Mexico, red-eared slider turtles are a very adaptable and opportunistic invasive animal that has the ability to populate a wide range of fresh water ecosystems. Along with being a disease risk to native turtle species they also compete with them for food, basking sites, nesting sites and habitat. They breed prolifically and adult turtles may eat young native turtles, frogs and small fish.
Manager Land Marine & Biodiversity at Natural Resources Adelaide Mount Lofty Ranges Michaela Heinson said the accidental escape or release of red-eared slider turtles from places where they have been illegally kept have allowed wild populations to establish in Queensland and New South Wales where they are the subject of eradication programs. Individual turtles have previously been found in South Australia, Victoria and Western Australia.
“Escapees or deliberately released red-eared slider turtles can be extremely difficult and costly to recover so we do rely on people to be alert for this animal and to immediately report them,” she said.
Medium sized, the red-eared slider turtle has a distinctive broad red or orange stripe behind each eye, narrow yellow strips marking the rest of the head and the legs and yellow patterning on the shell. Males have very long claws on their front feet.
Native turtle species found in South Australia including the common snake-necked turtle and the Murray River turtle look similar to this exotic species. However the red-eared slider turtle pulls its head straight back into its shell when threatened, while these native species will fold their neck sideways into their shell.
If you suspect you have sighted a red-eared slider turtle report it IMMEDIATELY to the Pest Alert Hotline 1800 084 881, PIRSA Biosecurity SA 08 8303 9620 or your local Natural Resources Management Centre.