Arrival from China of turtles with painted shells causes US airport quandary

It was not immediately clear to Customs officials at Dulles International Airport whether the reptiles were admissible

PUBLISHED : Monday, 24 September, 2018, 1:44am
UPDATED : Monday, 24 September, 2018, 8:58pm

Apparently it was not so much the art work itself that puzzled Customs inspectors at Dulles International Airport earlier this month, it was where the paint had been applied: to the shells of turtles.

According to US Customs and Border Protection, its inspectors “have seen some interesting things” in passenger baggage at Dulles, but the four baby turtles with the painted shells “was a new one”.

In a statement, Customs reported that a family of American citizens returning from China made a declaration at Dulles about the baby turtles with the painted backs.

Each of the turtles was covered by a painted design. It was not immediately obvious whether the reptiles were admissible, Customs said.

So the quartet was referred for agricultural assessment.

It should be pointed out that these were turtles that had been painted, rather than the species known as the Painted Turtle.

Customs said an inspector from the US Fish and Wildlife Service asked Customs to detain the immigrant animals for examination.

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On the next day, a wildlife service inspector removed the paint, and scrutinised the new arrivals.

An identification was made. The baby animals were determined to be red-eared slider turtles.

On the website Wide Open Pets, the red-eared slider is listed as one of 10 types of turtle that people can have as pets.

It is found in nature over a wide area of the United States.

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In a statement, Customs said turtles imported as pets require import permits. It said the fish and wildlife service issued a one-time permit, along with a warning. The turtles were released to the family, Customs said.

In its statement, Customs said turtles pose public health concerns as young turtles are especially susceptible to carrying salmonella.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) connected a multi-state outbreak of Salmonella Agbeni infections last year to pet turtles, Customs said.

But the Wide Open Pets website listed at least one reason why a red-eared slider might make a desirable pet: They live a long time.

“They can live anywhere from 50-70 years,” the pet website said.

However, it is not clear how the animals will be affected by their detention at Dulles. If they were aware of it.

“As pets,” the Wide Open Pets website said, “red-eared sliders can be slow to trust.”

However, the website said, they do “become personable with time.”

It should be noted that several authorities criticise the practice of painting the shells of turtles. Apparently the paint prevents the ability of the animals to absorb needed nutrients, and may cause toxins to enter the bloodstream.