Five Reasons to Not Buy a Turtle or Tortoise for Christmas/Holiday Gifts

American Tortoise Rescue Suggests Fun Toys or Donations Instead

American Tortoise Rescue, the international nonprofit for turtle and tortoise protection, is asking consumers to not buy live animals, especially turtles and tortoises, as holiday gifts. 

According to Susan Tellem, co-founder of American Tortoise Rescue (ATR), while these wonderful reptiles have outlived the dinosaurs, wide spread illegal smuggling and the commercial pet trade in turtles and tortoises has devastated wild populations worldwide.  Many once thriving species are now threatened or endangered.  Worse, some are now extinct. 

"The pet industry thrives on small, adorable exotic animals with a big price tag," Tellem says. "What we are recommending this holiday season is to avoid impulse buys. We understand the appeal of an adorable two inch baby turtle!”  Tellem adds, “But like most animal rescues, we have many turtles and tortoises ready for adoption to good homes.” 

Tellem gives five reasons why people shouldn’t buy a turtle or tortoise as a gift.

  1. Reptiles are boring.  Parents shouldn’t expect their kids to find everlasting enjoyment in an animal that basically sits still most of the day sunning itself.  Many kids tire of a turtle in a tank and don’t want to clean the habitat and change the water daily.  Turtles and tortoises poop, Tellem reminds everyone.
  2. Most turtles and many tortoises should already be hibernating at this time of year.  It’s unnatural for them to be awake and available for sale when they should be sleeping from about October through April.  It’s cruel to sell wild animals that need to hibernate to stay healthy.
  3. Turtles and tortoises confined in tanks are miserable.  It’s like a human spending their entire life in a bathtub, Tellem says. The only proper habitat for these reptiles is outside. Natural sun exposure helps maintain a healthy shell and is necessary for the animal to grow and thrive. During hibernation, most reptiles can stay outside in shelters that are dry and predator proof.
  4. Adoption is the ideal option, Tellem says. During the spring, when the animals awake, she helps place them in good “forever homes” with proper habitats. There is no charge to adopt, only the promise that the animal will be given exceptional care for the rest of its life.
  5. Turtles can easily live 25 years or more and tortoises can top 100 years. An impulse buy without a thought to the future is not in the best interest of the animal, Tellem says.  Plans need to be made in wills and with family members since the animals can outlive their owners. Most people don’t think about that when they buy an animal. 

Tellem, who founded the nonprofit 25 years ago with her husband, Marshall Thompson, says, "Many owners assume that when the tortoise becomes a problem, zoos will take them. This is simply not true. Zoos are not interested in cast-off pets." 

She adds that a domesticated pet cannot be put back into the wild. It will die or introduce disease into an already precarious wild ecosystem. In many states, it is also illegal.

Tellem says that the option of placing the animal with a rescue is not always the answer, as her rescue is full as are most others. The best solution is to find a compassionate adopter who is willing to give a proper “forever home” to the pet. There are many national rescue organizations listed on which can facilitate adoptions if people are interested in getting an animal.  

One way to enjoy a turtle or tortoise without harming them is to make a donation to a nonprofit like American Tortoise Rescue. “This allows us to rehome more turtles and tortoises and care for the ones that are ill. If a donor makes a $100 donation or more, we send them an adoption certificate featuring one of our permanent residents, and it’s good for one year. People enjoy that because they can care for the animal vicariously,” Tellem says.

American Tortoise Rescue, Malibu, Calif., is a nonprofit founded in 1990 to provide for the protection of all species of tortoise and turtle.  For more information, contact:  American Tortoise Rescue at; or email  Follow on Twitter @tortoiserescue and on Facebook.


About Us

American Tortoise Rescue is a nonprofit founded in 1990 for the protection of all species of turtles and tortoises. We have rescued more than 3,000 since our inception. Foundlings that cannot be adopted because of ill health remain in the care of ATR for the remainder of their lives. ATR acts as a clearinghouse for information about turtle care. We work to abolish “live market” slaughter of turtles in the US, the cruel importation and exploitation of a variety of species and protecting the desert tortoise.

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Quick facts

Illegal smuggling and the commercial pet trade in turtles and tortoises has devastated wild populations worldwide
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Avoid impulse buys of tiny turtles at pet stores.
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American Tortoise Rescue has many turtles and tortoisies for adoption.
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