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Turtle Adoption & Turtle Rescue

Turtle adoption can refer to adopting a freshwater turtle or a tortoise and providing a home for it yourself or it can refer to donating to a non-governmental organization such as World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) so they can care for a sea turtles species hatchling that can then be released into the sea.

So what is the benefit of adopting instead of buying? Well when you adopt, you get to give a rescue or unwanted turtle a home. This is more beneficial to the environment and wildlife conservation, especially since many of the exotic turtles sold on the pet market are wild-caught, leading to habitat loss.

If you’re interested in turtle adoption programs, or if you want to post about a captive desert tortoise or another kind you are giving up, go directly down to the comments section.

How do you adopt a turtle?

Turtle Adoption

Before you dive into the world of turtle adoption, it’s crucial to recognize that turtles, such as desert tortoises, are a long-term commitment. Their care, especially for species like the red-eared sliders, can be detailed. Some larger turtles may need a pond, or a large outdoor area to thrive while others may need a large indoor aquarium.

Depending on where you live, you may start by finding a local animal shelter such as a turtle rescue shelter. This can be done through a quick online search. Most big cities should have a turtle rescue shelter. Some even specialize in injured sea turtles.

You can find many rescues online. You can go through their websites. Many of these also have social media accounts that you can check out.

These rescues won’t simply hand you a turtle just because you want one. Submitting a detailed adoption application is often the first step. Along with the adoption form, there may also be an adoption fee.

There are requirements that you must meet. These will have to be stated in your application. These requirements include your experience level when it comes to turtle care, your capability to finance the turtle care (as turtles do have startup and ongoing costs), the nature of your home, and whether or not you have the space required.

That isn’t all. You most likely will be interviewed and have your house investigated.

Most rescues’ application process comes with a fee. These fees are usually higher than the average price of a turtle in a pet shop. You can find a pet turtle for a few bucks in pet shops. However, the money paid towards a turtle adoption helps to care for other rescues.

Requirements needed to adopt a turtle

Legal Requirements

Depending on state law, especially if you’re looking at species native to areas governed by the Arizona Game and Fish Department, there can be strict rules. Also, it’s illegal to interfere with wild tortoises in their natural environment.

Requirements needed for turtle adoption change from one locale to another as local and state laws vary. In some states such as Mississippi, you may need a hunting license to keep a native Mississippi turtle. These licenses are usually simple to obtain.  For instance, you can acquire a Small Game Hunting/Freshwater Fishing License from Hunting goods stores or Walmart for about $12.

There may also be requirements on the number of turtles you are permitted to keep. Using Mississippi as an example again, you aren’t permitted by law to have more than 4 of the same species or subspecies of nongame reptiles and you aren’t permitted to have more than 20 nongame reptiles. As such, if you already have four turtles of the same Mississippi native turtle species, you cannot adopt a turtle of the same species.

Of course as already mentioned the requirements change from one locale to another. As such, it is important to do your research before you can even attempt to adopt a turtle.

See out Turtle Laws page for more on your local state.

Care Requirements

As pet owners, it’s crucial to understand the specifics of turtle care. Be it ensuring the natural environment with native plants or getting the right feed.

Aquatic turtle

Eastern Long-necked Baby swimming in a vegetated tank at Princess of Wales Conservatory
Eastern Long-necked Baby swimming in a vegetated tank at Princess of Wales Conservatory. – source

Here is what is needed to keep an aquatic turtle.

An Aquarium or turtle tank – this tank should have a capacity of at least 20 gallons although a 40-gallon breeder is better for housing more than 2 turtles. The size of the turtle will depend ultimately on the size of the turtle. The Tetra Aquatic Turtle Deluxe Kit is a good choice for small turtles.

Aquarium stand – You’d need a stand such as the Aqueon Forge Aquarium Stand as placing the tank on the floor is not recommended. Similarly, you need to ensure that the tank isn’t placed by a window. This encourages the growth of algae and can lead to overheating within the enclosure.

Aquarium heater – if water temperatures are low which can occur during winter or in places where temperatures are long, you will need to install an aquarium heater such as Orlushy Submersible Aquarium Heater.

The water temperature within the aquarium needs to be 72 to 78 degrees Fahrenheit. If the temperatures are below 70 degrees Fahrenheit then an aquarium heater is essential. Get an aquarium heater with a variable temperature setting.

Aquarium vacuum – with time, the tank will get dirty and the water will get dirty. Change about a third of the water in the tank instead of all the water within the tank every now and then. Use the vacuum to remove fecal matter, uneaten food, and dirt within the enclosure.

You can also use a toothbrush or pot scrubber to clean algae within the enclosure. It is not advisable to use algae eaters such as pleco fishes to remove algae. A great choice is Laifoo Aquarium Siphon Vacuum Cleaner for Fish Tank.

Basking platform – most aquatic turtles bask during the day, so make sure you install a basking platform such as Penn-Plax Reptology Turtle Topper, Zoo Med Turtle Dock, and kathson Turtle Basking Platform.

Filter – Turtles are messier than fish so you need a filter that is rated twice as strong for the tank. For instance, if you have a 40-gallon tank, you need a filter rated for 80-gallon tanks or bigger. Since small hatchlings can get trapped in the intake tubes of filters, there must be a guard around the intake tube.  The Marineland Penguin Bio-Wheel Power Filter is a good choice.

Heat lamp & dome fixture– you need to install a heat lamp that can produce temperatures of about 95 degrees Fahrenheit for the basking area. The heating lamp will be held in place by a dome fixture. A great choice is Lucky Herp Mercury Vapor Bulb.

Tank decorations – tank decorations to consider include hiding sports. These should ensure that the turtle is comfortable. Turtles like to hide within hiding spots such as terracotta pots. This is essential if you have two or more turtles in the enclosure.

The more turtles you have, the more hiding spots you need. Objects such as aquarium logs that the turtle can climb on such as turtle logs can be placed within the aquarium. The Zoo Med Floating Aquarium Log is an excellent decoration for the enclosure.

Thermometer – this should allow you to effortlessly monitor the temperatures within the enclosure. Since the turtle leaves in a wet environment, the thermometer should be one that can be placed in water. An excellent aquarium thermometer is the Zacro LCD Digital Aquarium Thermometer.

UV lamp – most turtles need UVB light to synthesize the calcium consumed. Without UV radiation, the turtle is at risk of MBD (metabolic bone disease). This disease leads to abnormal growth and eventually death.

The UV lamp needs to give off UVB radiation. If the lamp gives off UVA radiation, that is a plus as UVA radiation makes the turtle more active. You can get either a fluorescent tube or a compact bulb. The tubes cover more area than compact bulbs do. You need fixtures to install the lamps over your turtle. Reptisun is an excellent UV lamp.

Box turtles

Ornate Box Turtle (Terrapene ornata) in red sand in Eddy County, New Mexico, USA
An Ornate Box Turtle (Terrapene ornata) in red sand in Eddy County, New Mexico, USA. – Source

Enclosure – box turtles require terrariums. You can keep hatchlings in a 10-gallon Rubbermaid or Sterilite tote or even a large storage plastic box. You can also house them in tortoise tables such as the Rockever Tortoise House. Regardless of the enclosure, the walls should not be transparent.

Heat lamp – The heat lamps used for aquatic turtles can be used here.  A great choice is Lucky Herp Mercury Vapor Bulb.

UVB lamp – Use the same UV lamps as those used for aquatic turtles.

Flat slate or feeding bowl – to avoid impaction, feed the turtle on a dish such as Leaf Reptile Food & Water Bowl. Slates such as the tortoise rock plate also help keep the chelonian’s beak filed.

Hides – hatchlings will spend a lot of time in hiding. Adults and subadults also retreat into hiding often.

Spray bottle – you will need to increase humidity levels to about 60%. A spray bottle such as the Exo Terra Spray Bottle is an excellent way to do so.

Substrate – the enclosure will need a substrate, this can be topsoil. You can also use sphagnum moss.

Tank decorations – these can include fake plants and rocks.

Water dish – the turtle needs a water dish as they drink from the dish. The box turtle will also soak in a dish such as the  Leaf Reptile Food & Water Bowl.

Medical Checkup After Adoption

Box Turtle at the vet
A Box Turtle at the vet. – Source

After getting an injured turtle or any adoptable one, a vet can provide detailed information on care, especially if you’re new to being tortoise owners. While many rescues employ vets, not all of them do. Also, it is best to have your own veterinarian for your turtle.

The first checkup is always important as it provides the veterinarian with initial information on the turtle’s health.

The initial checkup should be followed by yearly checkups.

Fostering a Turtle

African helmeted turtle being held in hand
African helmeted turtle being held in hand

Taking a turtle in as a foster home can be incredibly rewarding. Especially if you’re helping turtles affected by plastic pollution or other environmental hazards.

Turtle fostering programs are also available for people who want to keep turtles for a limited period. Fostering turtles who are awaiting release or adoption helps to free up space at turtle rescue facilities. This can free up space for ill or injured turtles who really need it.

Fostering a turtle also benefits people who wish to adopt a turtle in the future as it gives you experience when it comes to turtle care. You can also learn if keeping a turtle long-term is something you are comfortable with doing.

According to Central Mississippi Turtle Rescue, to foster a turtle in Mississippi, you must either hold one of the following hunting licenses or you must be included on their Wildlife Rehabilitation Permit which is renewed yearly. With being a sub-permittee, you can foster turtles the following year after submitting your details to become a sub-permittee.

Many non-profits hold monthly meetings for turtle adoption enthusiasts. Some even provide care sheets for those fostering or adopting.

The hunting licenses that allow you to foster without being included as a sub-permittee include a Non-Resident All Game Hunting License, Small Game Hunting and Freshwater Fishing License, Resident All Game Hunting and Freshwater Fishing License, and Resident Sportsman’s License.

With fostering, the rescue might provide the vet care and food, while you have to provide the turtle enclosure, lighting, heating, and other care essentials.

There are other turtle foster programs available from one turtle rescue to another. The hatchling turtle foster program is one of these. Here educators will care for a turtle hatchling with students through a school year and return the hatchling when school is out during the summer.

There are many fostering opportunities out there that you can partake in if you wish to care for a turtle without owning it.

Turtle Rescues in The United States

Sea turtle being rescued from fishing net by animal observers rescue staff
Sea turtle being rescued from fishing net by animal observers rescue staff

There are many turtle rescues in the United States and because of that, listing every single one will be very difficult. The best way to find a turtle rescue near you is by using Google. Here are a few turtle rescues in the United States.

From captive tortoises to sea turtle patients, these organizations often work in tandem with corporate partnerships and generous unnamed guests.

  • Alaska – Alaska SPCA Adoption Center
  • Arizona – Phoenix Herpetological Sanctuary, Vvo Reptile Ranch & Rescue
  • Arkansas – Reptile Rescue Center
  • Chicago – Chicago Herpetological Society
  • California – San Diego Turtle and Tortoise Society, Turtle & Tortoise Rescue of Arroyo Grande
  • Colorado – Colorado Reptile Humane Society
  • Connecticut – Turtle Creek Nature Preserve
  • Delaware – MERR Institute
  • Florida -Loggerhead Marinelife Center, Turtle Hospital
  • Georgia – Southeastern Reptile Rescue
  • Hawaii – Rainbow Friends Animal Sanctuary, Hawaii Marine Animal Response
  • Idaho – Idaho Humane Society Adoption Center, Lewis Clark Animal Shelter
  • Illinois – Christina’s Critters Wildlife Rehabilitation
  • Indiana – Indiana Turtle Care, Inc., Lafayette Bird And Exotic Animal Rescue, WildCare Inc
  • Iowa – Iowa Reptile Rescue, Draco’s Reptile Rescue and Refuge
  • Kansas – Northeast Kansas Wildlife Rescue
  • Kentucky – Kentucky Wildlife Center, Kentucky Wildlife Center
  • Louisiana – Louisiana Exotic Animal Resource Network, Louisiana SPCA
  • Maine – HerpHaven Reptile Rescue and Sanctuary
  • Maryland – Medusa’s Misfit Rescue, Happy Go Lucky Reptile Rescue
  • Massachusetts – Redfoot Reptile Rescue Programs, National Marine Life Center
  • Michigan – Kalamazoo Reptile Sanctuary & Rescue, Bairds Nest Parrot and Exotics Rescue
  • Minnesota – Cannon River Turtle Preserve Scientific and Natural Area (SNA), Minnesota Herpetological Society
  • Mississippi – Mississippi Wildlife Rehabilitation, Mississippi Animal Rescue,  Central Mississippi Turtle Rescue
  • Missouri – Wildlife Rescue Center, Wild Souls Wildlife Rescue and Release
  • Montana – Montana Reptile Rescue
  • Nebraska – Nebraska Rescue Council, Nebraska Wildlife Rehab
  • Nevada – Vegas Animal Rescue, The Animal Foundation
  • New Hampshire – Wildlife Encounters Ecology & Wellness Center, Blue Ocean Society
  • New Jersey – Sea Turtle Recovery, New Jersey Audubon’s Scherman Hoffman Wildlife Sanctuary
  • New Mexico – Wildlife Rescue of New Mexico, New Mexico Wildlife Center
  • New York – Turtle Conservancy, Sean Casey Animal Rescue, Turtle Rescue Of The Hamptons
  • North Carolina -The Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center
  • Ohio – Reptile Rescue, Ohio Fish Rescue
  • Oklahoma – WildCare Oklahoma, Oklahoma Humane Society │Adoption Center
  • Oregon – SEE turtles, Portland Audubon Wildlife Care Center, Oregon Humane Society
  • Pennsylvania – Nate’s Reptile Rescue, Philadelphia Metro Wildlife Center, Humane Animal Rescue of Pittsburgh
  • Rhode Island –  Wildlife Rehabilitators Association of Rhode Island, Audubon Society of Rhode Island Nature Center and Aquarium
  • South Carolina – Turtle & Tortoise Society, Carolina Wildlife Center
  • South Dakota – Sioux Falls Area Humane Society
  • Texas – Sea Turtle, Inc., Texas Wildlife Rehabilitation Coalition
  • Utah – Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, Loveland Living Planet Aquarium
  • Vermont – Pope Memorial Frontier Animal Society, Shelburne Rescue
  • Virginia – Wildlife Center of Virginia
  • Washington -Center Valley Animal Rescue, Seattle Aquarium
  • Washington DC – Turtle Island Reptile Registry
  • West Virginia – Mountain State Reptile Rescue, West Virginia State Wildlife Center
  • Wisconsin – Lakeshore Avian and Reptile Rescue and Sanctuary, Inc., Wildlife Rehabilitation Center at Wisconsin Humane Society
  • Wyoming – Animal Adoption Center

Other Methods

Other ways you can attempt to give away your turtle is by posting on turtle forums. Sites like craigslist.org can be good too.

You can also try posting a flyer at your local pet store offering them up to a good home.

Sea Turtle Adoption

Turtle adoption also refers to sea turtle adoption. With sea turtle adoption, you aren’t actually adopting a sea turtle. Rather you make a donation that goes to help non-governmental organizations such as World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) to protect and care for endangered and threatened sea turtle hatchlings and release them into the sea.

Contributions are usually among a few dollars. Some organizations such as Project Biodiversity provide you with a picture of the turtle you adopt as well as a certificate.

Why Turtle Adoption Is Important

Conclusion

Adopting a turtle is one way to acquire a pet turtle. Instead of buying one, why not adopt? The adoption process isn’t a difficult one. The most important thing is to find a turtle rescue center that works for you. Also, before you adopt a turtle, make sure that you can care for the turtle.

You will need to fill out an application before you can adopt a turtle and you may need a permit or license depending on the state in which you find yourself.

Sea turtle adoption is also quite popular nowadays, with this you make a donation to non-governmental organizations such as World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) or See Turtle. The donation you make helps to save baby turtles.

Lastly, post in the comments below if you are looking to adopt a turtle or to give one up. Please be sure to include your location and what is included if you are giving away any supplies with the animal.

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Aj Richardson

Friday 12th of April 2024

I have 3 4 year old red-eared sliders that I simply can’t manage to take care of anymore. They’re pets/friends of my children. Each has a turtle but we keep them all together in a tank. The oldest/Biggest is “Shell-Shell”, male, has a great personality. He loves to get out of the tank and walk around, craves attention, and will come up to a familiar face. He’s almost as big as my hand. The middle sized turtle is “Tim”, also a male, about as friendly as Shell-Shell. The 3rd is “Baby Turtle”, the only female, she’s very shy and gets bullied by her brothers but likes to cuddle under the heat lamp with them. I wish I could keep all 3 of them but of course they are growing and very hard to take care of because of how messy they are. I simply can’t keep up. I have 4 children and although they are the kids turtles they don’t help mom with the dirty work that comes with having pet turtles. If any one is interested please reach out to discuss.

Adina

Sunday 12th of May 2024

@Aj Richardson,

Where are you located?

Robert

Sunday 28th of January 2024

I’d like to fully adopt a 1 year or younger aquatic turtle I have a 20 gallon long with a 3 inch red ear slider that needs a tank mate. I will be getting an upgrade within the next 4 months. I’ll probably upgrade to a 75 gallon or even bigger depending on how many turtle I’ll be wanting. I can try and pay for shipping for a turtle but if any needs a home I’m here

Chloe Parchman

Saturday 13th of January 2024

In Hoover Alabama, have a juvenile red eared slider she’s the size of the palm of my hand. Raised her from a baby, she is trained to be handled and does not bite nor is she scared of humans. She’s hand fed and very sweet. I just am in college now and cannot take good care of her! Can travel anywhere in Birmingham area, I go to UA so I could accommodate drop off in Tuscaloosa and surrounding areas as well. Please only respond if you’re serious about giving her the care she deserves. I am very sad to re-home her!

Toby

Sunday 17th of December 2023

Any one have any turtles looking for a good home in vegas?

Eddie

Thursday 9th of November 2023

Will not sale to illegal states.

Email:[email protected]

2023 Captive born eastern box turtles.

Shipping is Monday-Wednesday(if this doesn'twork we can discuss).

Pictures of adult parents can and will be provided upon request.

These guys are being kept in a closed chamber. I do this for the first year of life to ensure two things: smooth shell growth and proper humidity. It is absolutely CRUCIAL these guys have sufficient access to water as they can dry out and die. My motto "You want grapes not raisins." Which is why I keep them in an inch of water I clean every other day.

Like their adult counter parts these guys are omnivores feeding on a variety of things from insects fungi berries and animal protein to name a few. The hatchlings have been feeding on dubia mealworms worms superworms soldier fly larvae and entertained a bit of cactus pear.

Right now they are predominantly going after things with movement.

For any additional questions about care or box turtles in general PLEASE ASK. It is not annoying. These are rewarding animals to work with and can even be kept outside year round once they reach adult size and are provided with suitable enclosures. Do your homework and prepare beforehand Good reference: https://youtu.be/GNyv3Ho5Xts?si=EvmO8lg1iEXXTtCX

Best Edd