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DNR Advises Against Using Wild Turtles in Turtle Derbies

Photo of Eastern Box Turtle courtesy of John WhiteAnnapolis, Md. (July 3, 2012) ─ Turtle races or derbies have a long history in many Maryland communities, often in conjunction with Fourth of July celebrations. The Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) cautions that using wild turtles in races poses a potential health risk to the turtles involved, the wild populations into which derby turtles may be released, and the human participants. DNR asks that turtle derby participants only use pet turtles, and that none of these animals are released into the wild.

“Please celebrate and enjoy the wonder of turtles while respecting the need for healthy wild populations,” said Scott Smith, Biologist for DNR’s Wildlife & Heritage Service. “Turtle derbies pose a potential health risk to wild populations of Eastern Box Turtle and other native reptiles and amphibians.”

Some turtles raced in derbies are collected from the wild. When these wild animals come into contact with pet turtles or other wild turtles harboring diseases, they can carry those diseases to wild populations when they are released. A particular concern is Ranavirus, an emerging infectious disease that has caused localized die-offs in Maryland of Eastern Box Turtles, other native turtles and some frogs and salamanders.

DNR asks the public to help protect all of Maryland’s wild reptiles (turtles, snakes, lizards) and amphibians (frogs, toads, salamanders) from diseases by obeying State laws. It is against the law in Maryland to release into the wild reptiles or amphibians that have been held in captivity with any other reptile or amphibian without prior written authorization from DNR. It is also illegal to release into the wild any reptile or amphibian that has been captively produced or is not native to Maryland.

Turtle derby participants should also note that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are currently investigating six outbreaks of Salmonella infections in humans associated with exposure to small pet turtles. Sale or possession of turtles with a carapace length (top shell) less than 4 inches has been illegal in the U.S. since 1975 due to the risk of transmitting Salmonella, however, they may still be available for purchase. Turtles of all sizes are capable of carrying Salmonella. To prevent Salmonella infection from any turtle, wash hands thoroughly with soap and water immediately after handling turtles or their habitat (e.g., cage, aquarium or tank). People at highest risk for serious Salmonella infections (children under 5 years old, older persons, pregnant women, or people who have weak immune systems) should avoid contact with turtles and their habitat.

More information on the 19 species of native turtles is available at

More information on salmonella is available at

   July 3, 20122

Contact: Josh Davidsburg
410-260-8002 office I 410-507-7526 cell

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources is the state agency responsible for providing natural and living resource-related services to citizens and visitors. DNR manages nearly one-half million acres of public lands and 17,000 miles of waterways, along with Maryland's forests, fisheries and wildlife for maximum environmental, economic and quality of life benefits. A national leader in land conservation, DNR-managed parks and natural, historic and cultural resources attract 11 million visitors annually. DNR is the lead agency in Maryland's effort to restore the Chesapeake Bay, the state's number one environmental priority. DNR is the lead agency in Maryland's effort to restore the Chesapeake Bay, the state's number one environmental priority. Learn more at