Did you find a box turtle and think it would be a fun pet, but now you’re regretting it? Or maybe you found one crossing the street and picked it up to protect it, but you don’t really want to keep it? On the other hand, maybe you’ve had your pet for years but don’t have time for it anymore?
Whatever your reason for not wanting to keep your turtle, you might be wondering where—or if—you can release it back into the wild.
The answer depends partly on how you got it, how long you’ve had it and whether you know exactly where it came from.
Releasing Wild-Caught Box Turtles
These can usually be released back into the wild …
Only if you’ve only had him for a short time. And only if you put him back where you found him.
To a box turtle, home is where he was born. And they will always try to go back home, even years later and no matter where they were moved to. So if you can’t put him back where he came from, he could get injured or killed trying to get there. Probably not the freedom you wanted for your pet.
If you’ve had your turtle for a long time, he also may no longer be able to survive in the wild, even if that’s where he came from. Even if you’ve tried to feed your turtle right and keep him healthy, he might not have the nutrient stores he needs to make it through the winter. Winter and hibernation are hard enough on wild turtles. Many don’t make it through, and it’s even less likely that your pet will make it.
Also, even though box turtles have instincts for hunting for food and finding hiding places to escape from heat, find humidity or get away from predators, one you’ve had in captivity for years may not have strong enough instincts to do these things well. A long-time pet is more likely to get sick and die or be killed by predators.
Releasing Captive-Bred Box Turtles
These should never be released into the wild. They’ve never had to survive on their own and are unlikely to be able to do so. Especially if the kind of box turtle you have is not native to your area.
In many places it’s also illegal. Captive box turtles may carry bacteria or other germs that don’t harm them or you but could be dangerous to other wild box turtles. And if yours is a non-native turtle, it also shouldn’t be allowed to breed with the native population. In most of the US, box turtle populations are endangered enough. They don’t need your pet possibly adding to their problems.
What Can You Do With a Box Turtle You Don’t Want?
Find her a new home. There are a lot of people who would love a box turtle! Ask friends and family if they or someone they know would like her. If a local pet store sells box turtles, they may be able to help, although they will probably not sell it for you. A herp society may also be able to help you find a good home.
Make Sure You Follow Local Laws
Some states, especially those where box turtles are native, regulate both possession and transfer of box turtles. In some it is illegal to take box turtles from the wild. Once you have a box turtle, no matter where you got it, it may also be illegal to return it to the wild.
Some states require a special permit to keep even one box turtle. If you give your turtle to someone living in one of these states, that person must apply for a permit or add your turtle to the permit they already have.
Make sure you check your state laws before you do anything with your box turtle.
All these rules might make you want to just go back to your original idea to let your turtle go in the wild. But remember what we discussed above. Releasing him could be a death sentence for your turtle, and possibly for other wild turtles in the area.
If you cared enough about your pet to keep him safe before, please continue to keep him and his relatives safe: Find him a suitable new home.