Turtles in demand as pets, leading to a spike in poaching

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Swimming in two plastic bins inside a brightly lit and sterile quarantine room at a Rhode Island zoo, 16 quarter-sized turtle hatchlings represent a growing worry for conservationist Lou Perrotti.

These eastern musk turtles, known for spending much of their lives in swamps and ponds and emitting a foul smell when threatened, were confiscated recently in a wildlife bust. And, though the reptiles are common, their illegal sale on the internet greatly concerns Perrotti, who directs conservation programs at Roger Williams Park Zoo in Providence.

“We are seeing an uptick in turtle poaching,” he said. “It’s getting ruthless where we are seeing thousands of turtles leaving the United States on an annual basis. … Turtle populations cannot take that kind of a hit with that much removal coming out of the wild.”

Wildlife trade experts believe that poaching — driven by growing demand for pets in the U.S., Asia and Europe — is contributing to the global decline of rare freshwater turtle and tortoise species. One study found over half of the 360 living turtle and tortoise species are at risk of extinction…

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