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Trading turtles and tortoises 

“Suitcase Filled with 185 Live Baby Tortoises Wrapped in Plastic Discovered at Galápagos Airport” – March 2021 

“DNA Test Stops Illegal Shipment of 2,200 Matamata Turtles” – June 2021 

“Memphis Zoo caring for 40 Mexican box turtles seized at Memphis port” – May 2021 

“Turtle Survival Alliance Launches Rescue Mission to nearly 11,000 Critically Endangered Radiated Tortoises Discovered in Massive Poaching Bust” – April 2018 
Wrapped in socks, stuffed into backpacks, suitcases and boxes, and then transported around the world, shells don’t protect turtles and tortoises from the illegal wildlife trade. A lucky few are discovered in transit and find homes in rehabilitation centers, educational facilities, and zoological institutions, or are released back into the wild. Unfortunately, many slip through and poachers succeed in moving them into markets around the world. While some turtles are trafficked for their shells, meat or eggs, the pet trade spurs the movement of many turtles and tortoises out of their natural habitats.  

When we make responsible and informed decisions regarding pets, we help keep turtles where they belong. The exotic pet trade brings to mind images of tigers, lemurs, or other large animals. While most people won’t happen upon or consider having these large animals as pets, people regularly seek out turtles and tortoises. While some turtles and tortoises are managed and bred for the pet industry, some are collected from the wild and are part of species at risk, like the radiated tortoise (a critically endangered tortoise from Madagascar that you can see at Zoo Atlanta at Scaly Slimy Spectacular and read about here []). When choosing a pet turtle or tortoise, check your local reptile rescue center first, and if going to a pet store, ask about where the reptiles are from. 

Even if you have no desire to get a turtle or tortoise as a pet, you can help keep them where they belong. The southeastern United States is a hotspot of turtle diversity and, here in Georgia, many of these species cannot be held without permits and licenses that are provided by the state. Unfortunately, some of these turtles and tortoises are captured by people to sell as pets both domestically and internationally. If you see suspicious activity when exploring the natural spaces of Georgia, you can call or email Georgia’s DNR Ranger Hotline ( If you are outside of Georgia, each state’s department of natural resources is a great place to find contact information. Reporting can help prevent turtles from entering into the wildlife trade.  

 Join us in taking a stand to reduce the demand for turtles and tortoises by being responsible pet owners and active nature explorers. 


Garner, G. (2021, March 30). Suitcase filled with 185 live baby tortoises wrapped in plastic discovered at Galápagos airport. People.

Leach, K. (2019, August 7). Update from the field: Turtle Survival Alliance. Zoo Atlanta.  
Nakagawa, A. (2021, June 09). DNA test stopes illegal shipment of 2,200 matamata turtles. EcoWatch.  

Ranger Hotline. Georgia Department of Natural Resources.  

Zoo Atlanta. (2004). Aldabra giant tortoise. Interpretive Resource Library. 

Andrew Hogan
Animal Immersion Programs Supervisor

Connect With Your Wild Side #onlyzooatl