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Posted by kelphead on August 09, 2001 at 17:13:22:


Keeping turtle eggs hatches problems

Tuesday, August 7, 2001
Kirk D. Richards
Dispatch Staff Reporter

Tom Dodge / Dispatch

A central Ohio woman vacationing at Hillsboro Beach in Florida saw some eggs and decided to keep them.

Heavy storms had destroyed the nests, and she wanted to save them.

Bad idea.

The eggs belonged to sea turtles on the list of endangered species.

Simply touching one of the animals is a federal offense, punishable by up to a year in prison and a $100,000 fine.

Taking them out of their natural waters ruins their interest in breeding until they are returned.

The woman, not knowing, took the eggs home on July 30.

The sea turtles -- loggerhead species -- hatched inside a bag in her basement last week.

In a panic, she called the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium and gave up 23.

Others had died in her house. Three of them later died in the zoo's care, and there's no guarantee that the others at the zoo will survive.

"It's still too soon to tell,'' said Doug Warmolts, assistant director of living collections at the Columbus Zoo, which picked up the turtles on Friday.

But it wasn't the only such incident in central Ohio.

Yesterday, the zoo received another sea turtle -- a hawksbill -- from the owner of a North Side pet store.

Terry Wilkins, owner of Captive Born Reptiles on Morse Road, almost lost his cool when two young men walked into his store asking for tips on how to care for their sea turtle, just a few days old, the umbilical cord still attached.

"I was all over them,'' said Wilkins, who asked the pair to take the turtles to the zoo and confess. Instead, they fled.

Wilkins took the turtle to the zoo, which has rehabilitated sea turtles in the past.

The two incidents in central Ohio have surprised federal officials.

"I receive only about one or two complaints a year,'' said Sandy MacPherson, national sea turtle coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Officials think the practice is widespread but not reported.

"I suspect people take one home and it dies, and they don't say anything,'' MacPherson said.

Signs posted on beaches and extensive coastal monitoring are used to discourage the practice.

From birth, a sea turtle's chances of surviving are slim. The hatchlings, about 3 inches long, can grow to 48 inches and weigh 450 to 500 pounds, Warmolts said.

Hatchlings swim rapidly into the open waters for 48 hours straight, trying to escape predators.

Most don't make it.

"In natural conditions, one in 1,000 will survive to adulthood,'' Warmolts said.

Workers with the restoration project lament that people poach sea turtles for their attractive shells, oil and leather.

Many sea turtles drown when unintentionally trapped in shrimp nets.

Pollution also kills them.

At the zoo, staff members at Discovery Reef use toothpicks to feed the turtles shrimp and scallions.

Yesterday, staff members Paul Rinehart and Becky Ellsworth had to break up turtles trying to eat each other.

The zoo, which has one 4-year- old green sea turtle on display in its aquarium, plans to restore the turtles to health and release them.

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