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NM Press: Safe Haven For Turtles

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Posted by: W von Papineäu at Mon Jun 11 20:35:11 2007  [ Report Abuse ] [ Email Message ] [ Show All Posts by W von Papineäu ]  

MOUNTAIN MAIL (Socorro, New Mexico) 08 June 07 San Acacia Couple Provides A Safe Haven For Turtles (John Larson)
Socorro, New Mexico (STPNS): An article in the current issue of New Mexico Magazine focuses on turtles in New Mexico, and features a Socorro County couple who own an array of the reptiles.
Stephany Moore and Alan Kerr have five African spurred (sulcata) tortoises, and a variety of other turtles at their home near San Acacia.
Moore is an assistant to New Mexico Tech’s Van Romero, and her husband Alan is a scientist in the Array Operations Center at the NRAO.
Moore said she got started with turtles in 1996 when she worked for a contractor at the Stallion Site on White Sands Missile Range.
“There was a severe drought that summer, and despite that, the military kept firing rockets and things northward and setting grass fires all over the range,” she said. “After the fires, we would find ornate box turtles starving and dehydrated near the burned areas. I took pity on these turtles and took them home, with the intention of nursing them back to health and then returning them to the wild.”
She said Kerr soon became sharing her fascination with turtles.
“My interest in caring for these turtles got Alan hooked on turtles,” Moore said. “Alan has developed a real feel for them, and in my opinion, he’s got a real gift for setting up beautifully naturalistic and useful enclosures for them.”
They soon found that their Socorro apartment was no place for caretakers of tortoises.
“We were fortunate enough to buy five acres of land to provide room for the sulcatas,” Moore said. “We intend to provide a sanctuary for them to live out their lives. We don’t allow them to breed, since there are already too many sulcata tortoises out there that need homes. If we took every tortoise that was offered to us, we could probably have 20 tortoises in a couple of months.”
The couple currently has five sulcata tortoises, ranging in size from 60 pounds down to a little one that is currently the “size of a cheeseburger.”
“I wanted to get sulcata tortoises after I saw some at one of the Reptile Expos in Albuquerque,” Moore said. “We did research on them beforehand, so Alan and I both knew that they would get large; and that we were taking on a lifetime commitment.”
Four of the five were turned over to Moore and Kerr by owners who didn’t want to take care of them anymore.
In addition to the large sulcata tortoises, they also keep box turtles, “most of which came from people who found them crossing roads and were concerned about them being run over,” she said. “A few of our boxies came from areas within the Socorro city limits where the new developments are being built.”
She said those turtles have reproduced, and they now have 10 offspring ranging in age from four years to two years.
“I also have three aquatic turtles. A pair of Reeves’ turtles and one yellow-bellied slider,” Moore said. “They currently occupy a 40-gallon tank in my office at New Mexico Tech and have become quite the tourist attraction for my co-workers and visitors to Brown Hall.”
Moore and Kerr are concerned about the ever-decreasing habitat in New Mexico. Moore said more development spells trouble for turtles.
“We are paving over places near rivers and ponds at the expense of the wildlife already there. And of course, the simultaneous creation of roads cause even more problems for box turtles,” Moore said. “Their main defensive response to any threat is to pull into their shell, which is exactly the wrong response to a car coming at them.”
Kerr said turtles are slowly losing their habitat as Socorro grows.
“An area between Lopezville Road and El Camino Real was a great habitat for box turtles, but since new cross streets have been going in the ecosystem has radically changed,” he said. “They can thrive in fields around here, eating grass, as well as bugs, grasshoppers, slugs and snails.”
“If you talk to old-timers in the Socorro area, they’ll tell you that they remember a lot more turtles being around when they were kids than there are now,” Moore said. “I grew up on the Zuni Indian Reservation – my folks taught at the high school there – and I used to catch horned lizards all the time as a kid; I haven’t seen a horned lizard in ages, though.”
Kerr said turtles don’t do well above 5,000 feet, “although there are a lot of yard turtles in Albuquerque.”
According to Moore, turtles have been around for 200 million years.
“They actually evolved into their current form before the dinosaurs even arose,” she said. “It would be an absolute travesty if humans manage to kill them off after all they’ve survived.”
Moore said box turtles spend their whole lives learning a specific territory about the size of a football field.
“They learn where the food is, where the water is, and find the best places to shelter and hibernate on that specific territory. If you try to put a box turtle back into the wild in a different territory, it could starve or not be able to find a safe place to hibernate in winter, and it could end up dying,” she said. “Unless you know exactly where a particular box turtle came from, it’s not a good idea to put it back into the wild.”
Moore said learning how properly to care for the reptiles was an eye-opening experience.
“We were not prepared for the wide variety of care information out there, and how wrong a lot of it was,” she said. “We were appalled that not even veterinarians really knew that much about these tortoises.”
Moore started the Sulcata Station website ( in 1998 to provide a place on the Web where new owners could go to get a complete picture of what they needed to do to take good care of their tortoises.
“In the beginning we found that vets and pet store employees almost invariably give out the wrong care information - telling folks to feed fruit and veggies and even dog food to sulcata torts,” she said. “We’ve found that they can thrive on basically the same diet as a horse. A regular diet of hay. Fruit is bad for them because their metabolism can’t deal with the sugars. As for veggies, they can have them maybe once a week as a treat, but no more.”
Moore said the best advice for a potential turtle owner comes from clubs such as the Rio Grande Turtle and Tortoise Club in Albuquerque.
“Don’t necessarily believe anything that pet store employees tell you when you’re considering getting a turtle or tortoise,” she said. “It’s sad but true that many pet stores are staffed by undertrained, underpaid employees who really don’t have accurate information about the animals they sell.”
“There is a whole industry developed around getting reptile owners to buy various products, some of which actually aren’t safe to use. Despite what the product labels or advertising may state, reptile foods are not tested,” Moore said. “They don’t take into account what the reptile’s actual nutritional requirements are, and they use a lot of preservatives and other questionable ingredients.”
She recommends people go online and find out what the turtle actually needs.
“Turtles are generally the most non-threatening reptiles out there,” Moore said. “They all have individual personalities, too. They have behaviors that make them very easy to anthropomorphize, such as learning very quickly that the big two-footed things, although scary, bring food. So they get really good at begging, which of course makes them all the more endearing.”
She said their four cats are ambivalent about the reptiles.
“They have no idea what to do with turtles,” Moore said. “They can’t do anything with that shell and turtles don’t dart around, so they lose interest.”
San Acacia Couple Provides A Safe Haven For Turtles


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