From the Susquehannock Wildlife Society:
(Bel Air, MD) – – Not all traditions are harmless, as evidenced by the Independence Day Turtle Derby and Frog Jumping contests held each year in Bel Air. These races have been local tradition for decades and appear fun for everyone involved, but disease and inadvertent mistreatment of the animals will continue to take a toll on many of the species involved and threaten the future of local wildlife.
Last year, the Susquehannock Wildlife Society’s efforts to replace these races with family-friendly, wildlife-themed games and events were deemed too abrupt and rejected by the Bel Air Independence Day Committee, which decided to proceed despite the warnings of state biologists, veterinarians, wildlife rehabilitors, and other professionals.
A year later, and with no apparent concern or effort to transition the events from the Committee, those warnings remain:
“The take of these turtles has a significant impact on the local turtle population, especially for a species already in decline,” said Kathy Woods, Director, Phoenix Wildlife Center in Baltimore County. “Turtle racing needs to be banned.”
“The turtle derby is not harmless family fun,” said Dr. Keith Gold, DVM, Chadwell Animal Hospital in Abingdon. “This is a perfect storm for this fatal viral disease [Ranavirus].”
“The turtle derby in Bel Air, and all other turtle derbies, should be discontinued due to the numerous health risks associated with them,” said Dr. Tamie Haskin, DVM, Chadwell Animal Hospital in Abingdon.
Harford County Public Schools students have joined the effort and worked this school year to create an educational presentation, “STOP THE DERBY: Make It a Tradition to Keep Wildlife Wild,” which they took on the road and displayed at various public events.
“The students have spent the year investigating herpetological population declines, as well as other stressors to these populations locally,” said Laura O’Leary, Environmental Science/Natural Resources teacher at North Harford High School.
The high school students also filmed their own videos, using their knowledge and creativity to make personalized pleas for an end of the derby events. A compilation of their videos can be viewed here – Harford County Student Videos Call for End of Turtle/Frog Derby (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GueW_2Q_J9k&feature=youtu.be)
Deadly diseases such as Ranavirus are easily transmitted when animals come in contact with one another, especially during stressful situations. These frogs and turtles “race” because they are frightened and their natural instinct tells them to find a place to hide from potential predators. Creating stressful situations for these animals for our amusement is both dangerous and cruel.
Most of the animals used for these races are taken from the wild. Some are rare and declining species that are never returned, while others are not released into the same areas they were found. Reptiles and amphibians are also known to carry a variety of diseases and bacteria that can create a high potential for illness in humans coming in contact with them. In Maryland, it is illegal to possess certain wild species or to possess more than a certain quantity of other species. It is also illegal to release a wild animal that has been kept in captivity if it has been in contact with any other reptiles or amphibians.
The Susquehannock Wildlife Society once again urges the Bel Air Independence Day Committee to place itself on the leading edge of a positive environmental trend, which has seen snake round-ups, turtle races, and frog jumping contests continue to fade away.
For more information about this or other local wildlife issues, contact the Susquehannock Wildlife Society at 443-333-WILD (-9453) or visit our web site at http://www.suskywildlife.org.