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Canadian Projects

Canadian Blog

by Barry Kent MacKay,
Senior Program Associate

Born Free USA's Canadian Representative

Barry is an artist, both with words and with paint. He has been associated with our organization for nearly three decades and is our go-to guy for any wildlife question. He knows his animals — especially birds — and the issues that affect them. His blogs will give you just the tip of his wildlife-knowledge iceberg, so be sure to stay and delve deeper into his Canadian Project articles. If you like wildlife and reading, Barry's your man. (And we're happy to have him as part of our team, too!)

Turtle’s 20-Year Torment Terminated

Bad Things Happen in the First Four Days of April

Published 04/19/11

All that I am about to report happened in the first four days of April, and has left me dazed at the sheer, absurd, perfidy of my own species.


I begin with a woman I never met, wondering how could she do what she did? How could anyone do what this ... this ... well, what, monster ... moron ... words fail me ... this ... person ... do such a thing?

Because this person I never met is dead now, presumably of age-associated natural causes, I’ll never know her motivation. Twenty years ago, for whatever reason, she obtained a red-eared slider. That’s a pond turtle that grows to about the size of a dinner plate. She kept the turtle in a bucket too small for her to turn around in as she grew larger, and during all that time this lady fed the turtle nothing, nothing at all, but egg whites! She did nothing to prevent the subsequent grotesque distortion of the animal’s shell for lack of calcium and other necessary nutrients.

Red-eared sliders are pond turtles. They are the species most often imported, in large numbers, into Canada for the pet trade from the United States, where they are native. They are also sent in greater numbers to Eurasia where they may be used for human consumption, or worse. Worse? I’ll explain later.

In late March the animal control services of Toronto’s west end were brought a grotesquely deformed red-eared slider. It was explained by members of the family of the recently deceased owner that the turtle had been kept in a bucket for 20 years and fed only egg whites. Her carapace, or upper shell, had curled up around the edges, which literally prevented the animal from ever being able to act like a turtle, to pull in her head and feet for protection, or even to breathe properly. The family of the deceased owner brought the turtle in to be euthanized.

Not so fast. Dr. Peter Copeland, a compassionate veterinarian, was on duty and wondered if the turtle had to be rescued only to be killed. My colleagues at Animal Alliance of Canada sent the turtle to a veterinarian who specializes in reptiles, and in spite of her deformed shell, she was in relatively good health, although she could never be kept with other turtles as she could never defend herself, nor could she be in deep water as her breathing was compromised by compressed lungs.

She was brought to my house where, over a two-day period, Shelly Hawley-Yan helped me (actually, she did most of the work) to set up a tank with a charcoal filter, the proper ultra-violet light, a floating platform and so on, all in my guest room. That was so her tank could be under a window that, in warm weather, could be open for fresh air and sunlight, although there was always shade during the few midday hours that the sun entered the tank. And finally and importantly we gathered an array of proper food stuffs, a well-balanced diet for this tragically abused animal.

I am happy to report that Audrey is learning to eat proper food and has room to move, to swim, to walk and to bask. Best of all a permanent home with a turtle rescue organization is being arranged and she will move there at the end of the month.

But what mars this happy ending is that the same day Audrey started eating real food, news broke about an unbelievable cruelty in distant China. There a merchant has started selling sealed small plastic bags that contain artificially colored water in which swims a live animal ... often a young, thus small, “Brazilian turtle.” In fact, they are red-eared sliders. Buyers are told that the colored water contains all the air and food the animals need to survive. That’s nonsense, of course. The small bags are attached to key chains. Living ornaments ... although alive for not very long. One man even had one hanging as an ornament on his office wall, all of it reportedly legal under Chinese law.

And since I have, all my life, been criticized for caring about animals, as though that precluded compassion or concern for my own kind, let me tell you what, on those first four days of April I also learned of the slaughter of eight people in Afghanistan by an enraged mob because a Florida preacher had, some time earlier, burned the Koran. Huh? He knew that action had the potential to incite murderous retaliation, and what did his stupid actions have to do with the victims killed in Afghanistan?

Sometimes I want cut all communication with the rest of the world and pull into a metaphorical shell of protection against all news of all human activity, for fear of the effects of constant exposure to the degrees of inanity and brutality of which my own kind is capable, locally, and on the world stage, and against every living creature, including ourselves.

But I won’t do that. I’ll try to continue to try, to do good deeds, to make a kind, not a cruel, and an intelligent, not an idiotically senseless, contribution to the social whole, step by step, even one turtle at a time.

Blogging off,

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