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Don’t Throw Away that Snake or Turtle

By: Stephen Carr

Date Posted: 2000-04-14

Laurent Marcel Gagne has an unusual hobby. He takes in unwanted exotic pets. An advertisement he has been running in Japan Update urges readers not to desert their "rabbits, birds, iguanas etc." Gagne does not want dogs or cats. There are other people on the island taking them in. But if anyone has no further need for a turtle, snake ,bird or other species, they could call 098-956-6264.

The dumping of turtles is a big problem on the island. There are over 57,000 military employees and their dependents on the island. Thousands of their children like nothing better than a matchbox sized turtle as present. It is cute, entertaining and easy to take care of. It grows bigger remarkably fast however, up to five inches in diameter. Then it needs a bigger tank, its water needs changing every few days and it smells.

When these undesirable characteristics of a turtle become obvious, the solution a lot of people opt for is to put it into a stream. They think they are doing the turtle a favor by giving it its freedom, as well as themselves. But the trouble is Okinawan turtles do not get along with the variety brought here by many U.S. service families, the Mississipi Turtle. When the two species meet they usually try to push each other away and this often ends in fights. The Okinawan Turtle is being overwhelmed by the proliferating outsiders and as has happened in so many other parts of the globe, an indigenous species may one day become endangered by a foe it has not evolved to compete with.

A more sensible option than releasing the turtle into a river would be to take it to the dam next to the Botanical Gardens. There it can live out its days without moving around the island by penetrating the waterways. An even better solution would be to take it to the zoo. The zoo is willing to give sanctuary to any homeless turtles and of course Gagne is happy to do the same.

Another reptile that is brought from North America and released on the island is snakes. They are popular as pets with many military personnel. Some escape, some are released and others arrive on the island in the holds of ships. “There are now so many of them that the ecological imbalance” is almost too late, says Gagne.

He tells me about the two cockatiels he has been given. “One is yellow and one gray, with red spots on their cheeks. They are easily adaptable to the local environment.” For the moment they are keeping him company, though. “The yellow one sings beautifully” he says “but it doesn’t talk”.

Many fish have been brought to Gagne in response the “don’t desert your pets” ad. He was given seven in one lot, which he gave to a neighbor, along with an aquarium. He has four rabbits at the moment which he is keeping for their usefulness at producing compost. “I’m getting an iguana today” he added.

U.S. Government regulations make it easier to ship a dog or a cat back home, another incentive to abandon that Komodo Lizard or Cassowary Bird when the tour of duty is over. Laurent Gagne asks anyone contemplating that to think again and give him a call on 098-956-6264.

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