Releasing Your Pet Turtle in the Wild? All You Need To Know

There comes a moment when a pet owner has to let go of a pet no matter how much attachment they have with it! No matter how much you like your pet turtle, some unique circumstances can force you to let them go. Although giving up a pet turtle after years or months of companionship is hard, it’s inevitable, especially if it’s for the better.

When bringing a pet turtle home, everyone hopes to create the best memories by offering the best living conditions. But as time goes by, some people realize that they’re not capable of providing the best care. Although turtles don’t require much, they need specialized care, which not many people can deliver consistently.

When pet owners determine that they cannot provide the best care, they release the pet turtles into the wild. Lack of adequate information makes them believe sending the turtle back to its natural habitat is the best option since they find everything they want. While many people think they’re giving pet turtles the chance to thrive, leaving them in the wild is actually the worst thing ever.

Why Would People Want to Release Pet Turtles in the Wild?

After several years of creating strong bonds with a pet turtle, few things can force a pet owner to release their pet in the wild willingly or unwillingly. These include:

Lack of Space

When adopting a pet turtle, the best option is to go for hatchlings or juveniles. If you’re not adequately informed, you won’t remember that turtles can increase in size within a few years.

If you invested in a small tank, you’d be forced to get a bigger one or dispose of your pet once it grows into a more prominent figure.

Conversely, if a turtle gives birth, you’ll need to increase the tank size to accommodate the new members or release turtles as juveniles in the wild.

Essentially, every inch of the turtle’s shell requires 10 gallons of water. When a turtle becomes more prominent than its aquarium or when they reproduce more offspring, it might be challenging to provide them with ample living space.

Most people opt to release their pet turtles in the wild with adequate space.

Lack of Adequate Time to Cater and Care for Pet Turtles

In the fast-paced world, people are always on the go trying to accomplish their daily goals and daily routines.

Amidst the hustles and bustles of going to the office, taking care of the family, and attending to personal needs, it can be challenging to set enough time to cater for your pet turtles.

Although pets don’t need to be fed every day, their water needs to be changed after two weeks, filters unblocked, and the tanks cleaned at least once a month.

More importantly, you’ll need to observe the pet closely for any ailment and regularly supervise them as they walk in the yard.  

Doing all these activities requires a lot of time. Often, pet owners feel overwhelmed with the management practices and opt to let their turtles go free.

Financial Burden

Some choose turtles as pets since they’ve heard that they don’t eat much and don’t require a lot of care. However, to their surprise, they learn that turtles also need a balanced diet after two to three days.

They need to eat vegetables, turtle pellets, fruits, and worms that can cost $30 to $40 every month.

Furthermore, the water in the turtle tank needs to be cleaned using relatively expensive filters. Then there are expenses for medication, supplements, vitamins, and even cleaning tools.

When pet owners discover that they have to fork out up to $100 monthly, they are swayed to release them into the wild.


Some people go on to adopt turtles without checking whether it’s legal to do so in their respective country or state. For instance, since 1975, domesticating turtles smaller than 4 inches has been considered illegal.

This is because baby turtles carry salmonella bacteria on their skin and can quickly spread them to family members, especially children. If your red-eared slider gives birth, you’ll have to let the hatchlings go.

Additionally, some apartments have a no-pet policy. Therefore, if you move to such an apartment, you’ll have no option but to give up your pet turtle.

And since most people don’t know how to dispose of their pet turtles properly, they view releasing them in the wild as the most plausible option.

Everyone assumes that since nature provides everything turtles need, they’ll be better off in their natural habitat than in an enclosure where they aren’t getting enough care. They don’t realize that letting a pet turtle go in the wild has dire consequences.

Releasing captive-bred turtles in the wild will do more harm than good. It affects not only the turtle but also the ecosystem.

Let’s delve deep and figure out how it can be dangerous to let your pet turtle free and how they can disrupt the ecosystem.

4 Dangers Pet Turtle May Face if Released in the Wild

Pet turtles are used to everything being provided to them when in captivity. However, once they are in the wild, they have to struggle to get everything, including:  

Safety and Security

In captivity, pet turtles are used to saying in heavily guarded tanks or enclosures where predators can’t get in.

The closest they’d ever get to a threat is when the owner is handling them or when they stroll around the yard and come across other pets such as dogs and cats.

Although pet turtles get scared when they are handled by unfamiliar people or after seeing dogs and cats, at least none of those intends to injure or turn them to food.

However, they instinctively try to bite the aggressor or retreat into their shells when handled or threatened.  

However, they find a different ball game when they’re thrown in the wild. Pet turtles will encounter creatures they’ve never seen before for the first time. These include raccoons, crows, snakes, eagles, and alligators.

Since they are brought up in captivity, pet turtles are not used to protect themselves. For this reason, they always find themselves at crossroads with predators that aren’t even interested in fighting them.

Wild turtles are always alert and ready to face any danger. They know the areas to avoid if they don’t want to brush shoulders with predators and understand when to stand their ground and take a flight.

They’ll also know where to hide at night to escape predators.

Since captive-bred turtles live in a solitary environment where they don’t have to deal with predators, they’ll don’t know how to fight back, how to hide, and where to hide at night.

Introducing a pet turtle to this new world will compromise its safety, and it might not even last long.


Pet turtles in captivity get their food delivered straight into their enclosure or aquarium. This means they won’t have to swim for miles looking for something to eat.

Their only is to catch live fish and snails introduced into the turtle tank. The rest of the food is suspended in the water or under the tank. 

Wild turtles don’t have the luxury of getting food delivered to them. They have to scour around for food.

And the worst part is that they mainly survive on aquatic plants and vegetation. Wild turtles have to hunt worms, small insects, snails, and small fish to get proteins.

Since domesticated pet turtles get their food without having to sweat, one of the biggest problems will be getting surplus food when they find themselves in the wild.

After several years of being fed, pet turtles will find it challenging to look for food by themselves. 

Someone may argue that if hatchlings and juvenile turtles can survive in the wild, how come fully mature pet turtles can’t. There’s no doubt that baby turtles are born with instincts that allow them to fend themselves until they become adults.

More importantly, they get better at looking for food and hunting insects, worms, and fish by experience.

If baby turtles don’t utilize their hunting and survival instincts from a tender age, the instincts start to fade away slowly.

Conversely, baby turtles have to eat more often and thus spend more time perfecting their hunting and food gathering skills.

In captivity, pet turtles are brought as hatchlings or juveniles. They find a carefully prepared aquarium that has everything, including food. This means that they don’t get to hone their hunting and gathering skills.

So, if you decide to get a pet turtle out of a turtle tank and throw it in a river, it will have a tough time trying to find food.

Therefore, before you throw your turtle into a wild pond, please know that it will have difficulties finding its food.


Turtles need adequate UV light and heat to stay active and maintain optimal body temperatures. When in captivity, they get UV light and heat from light bulbs and heat lamps.

These light and heat sources are always placed above the basking area within a turtle’s enclosure. Turtles have to swim to the basking area, usually a short distance away, to warm their bodies and get UV light.

On the other hand, things are not that easy for wild turtles. Finding ample basking spots in the wild is a daunting experience.

The other problem is that most basking spots are usually overcrowded. And if the basking space is relatively small, turtles have to stack up to get adequate UV light and warmth.

When pet turtles move from captivity to wild habitat, they’ll not know how to find a basking spot. Rather than relying on artificially installed lamps, they’ll get their UV light and heat from the sunlight. The worst part is that they won’t know where to bask.

Although turtles can stay for days without basking, heat, and light are essential elements they can’t do without.

Since captive-bred turtles are used to having a basking area just a few meters away, they’ll have a rough time trying to adjust when in the wild. If they fail to find a basking spot in due time, they may get sick.

One advantage of a natural basking area is that it offers unfiltered UV light. Although light bulbs are designed to provide enough UV rays, they can’t beat the UV light from the sun.

If you want to save your pet turtles the trouble of not getting adequate sunlight, don’t just dump them in the wild.

Want to deep dive and learn more about basking, check this full beginner’s guide about Turtle Basking.


Usually, pet turtles stay in an aquarium alone without interacting with other turtles. If released in the wild, they will have a problem living in a community.

Turtles may not be social creatures, but they live together in a place where they find essential amenities in the wild.

Although they won’t hunt together, turtles from the same species will live where there’s plenty of food, a basking spot, security, and reproduction partners.

When captive-bred turtles are brought to such an environment, they won’t know how to react since they’ve never experienced communal living.

They’ll try to fight any turtle that seems to get too close and won’t even understand how to attract a mating partner. Because of spending too much time alone, pet turtles don’t have the skills to survive in a community.

Pet turtles sharing an aquarium may have an easy time blending with other turtles, but they will still feel threatened living among a bale of turtles.

After learning the various problems that pet turtles are likely to face if released in the wild, you can understand why pet owners must find other ways to let go of their pets.

How Will Releasing Turtles into the Wild Impact the Environment?

If pet turtles successfully integrate into the wild habitat, they will negatively impact the ecosystem. Some of the problems they’ll bring to the environment include:

They May Carry Bacteria and Diseases

While turtle owners may try to provide the best living conditions as much as possible, they can’t match the natural habitat in the wild. Turtles have bacteria in their gut that don’t affect them but may affect other animals. Because of living in small tanks, the bacteria will be more concentrated on their skin.

Once released in a pond where other animals or people swim, they can spread the bacteria and lead to serious ailments. Conversely, turtles can carry various diseases from their aquariums and transmit them to other turtles in the wild. 

Increased Population

Although most turtle species are endangered, releasing several pet turtles into the wild can easily lead to overpopulation. If a pet turtle manages to survive in the wild, there’s a high chance that its offspring will reach maturity.

When new turtles are introduced into the ecosystem, the population increases. With the increasing population, the turtles will start to fight for food, basking space, and other things. By releasing your pet turtle in a pond, you’ll be adding more pressure to the ecosystem.

The Disruption of the Normal Food Chain

When new turtles are introduced into the natural habitat, they’ll eat a fair share of bugs, snails, and insects. If several pet turtles are released, they’ll eat substantial insects and disrupt the food chain. 

For this reason, some animals will not have enough to eat and may respond by looking for alternatives.

For instance, if the population of snails, small fish, and insects plummets, turtles might be forced to turn to large fish, which aren’t easy to catch and can always fight back.

Distorting the Balance in the Ecosystem

Different ecosystems work through a set of balances. In a typical ecosystem, some animals eat others to keep their population in check. On the other hand, some consume only meat, and others that only feed on plants. The unique collaboration of various animals to ensure survival is disrupted if a new member is introduced. 

If a captive-bred turtle manages to adapt to conditions in the wild, it will start consuming food meant for another animal. If the other animal doesn’t have an alternative food source, it may starve and die.

As pet owners, it’s vitally essential to understand that releasing your captive-bred turtle into the wild will affect its existence and disrupt the ecosystem.

Where Can I Take My Unwanted Turtle?

As seen in this guide, releasing your turtle into the wild can cause many problems. However, did you know that there are better ways to let your pet turtle go without compromising its well-being and impacting the environment? Let’s go through some options you can leverage to give away your pet turtle.

Find a Friend That Will Take Care of Your Pet Whole Heartedly

Do you have a best friend or family member who idolizes your pet turtle and has regularly expressed how they wished they had a pet turtle; these individuals are best suited to take over from where you left.

The best part about giving your pet to a friend is that you’ll have closure knowing it’s somewhere safe.

However, you need to ensure that the person you give the turtle can provide it with the best care.

Consider the environment they live in, the preparedness, and financial stability.

While seeing the turtle in your friend’s house might remind you of the good days, at least you’ll be sure that they are in favorable conditions.

Return it to Where You Got It

You should contact the place where you acquired the turtle and ask whether they can allow you to take it back.

Some will allow you to return the turtle, but others will have a no return policy. However, you can ask them for recommendations on where to dispose of your pet turtle.

Look for a Nearby Park or Zoo that Take Care of Turtles

If there’s a zoo or park in the neighborhood, visit them and ask whether they can accept your turtle. They can add your pet turtle to the list of other turtles. Various parks and zoos in the US will gladly take your turtle if they can take care of it.

However, you’ll need to explain your situation and fill in some paperwork. If your reptile friend is accepted in a local zoo, you can always visit afterward and check how the turtle is fairing.

Contact Reptile Rescue and Adoption Centers

With several reptile rescue and adoption centers open around the country, you don’t need to release your turtle in the wild. These centers boast trained staff, well-equipped infrastructure, and resources to ensure that your turtles get the best care.

Most often, centers that handle pet turtles exclusively have a higher chance of taking in your pet turtles.

However, you should check out even centers that house animals of all kinds. You’ll be asked to provide ownership documents and go through screening to prove that you’re the rightful owner.

Sell Your Turtle Online

Several people wish to own a turtle but don’t know where to find them. You can connect with such people by posting your pet turtle online.

If you have the equipment needed to take care of the turtle, please include them in the deal to make it more appealing. Selling a turtle earns you decent cash and ensures that you dispose of your turtle the right way. 

Consult Your Vet

Veterinarians have in-depth knowledge about turtles and can direct you to places where you can give out your pet turtle. They can also provide some insights on where to search. 

Local Pet Stores

Local fish and pet stores are also known to adopt pet turtles. However, they require you to pay a small fee since the rate of abandonment has increased in the last few years.

However, these stores are likely to adopt hatchlings or juveniles. Adult turtles have a slimmer chance of being adopted at your local pet store.

But before you give up your turtle, please ascertain that the pet store you’re considering is reliable.

Ensure that they won’t exploit your pet turtle for breeding and then release it in the wild. Ensure that they have good intentions with your turtle and are open to providing updates about the turtle’s well-being.

Is it Advisable to Release turtles into Ponds?

As mentioned earlier, turtles should not be released in the wild, whether it’s a pond, river, or pool. When you release a turtle in a pond, you’ll leave it exposed to predators and might not survive for a month or two.

Conversely, it will have a problem getting food since it is used to being fed its entire life. It may also carry germs and diseases from the tank and spread them to other creatures in the pond.

Lastly, they may not be native to the area you release them and thus won’t have whatever it takes to survive during the cold season.

Can Baby Turtles Survive on their Own?

Turtles are peculiar creatures that don’t take care of their young ones. Once they find a nesting spot, they dig a hole, lay eggs, cover them, and disappear. It’s up to the baby turtles to hatch out of the eggs, climb up the nest and move to the sea.

Turtle hatchlings break the eggshell using a temporary tooth known as the caruncle. The first hatchlings have to wait for all the eggs to hatch so that they can burst out of the nest as a group. When they come out of the nest, they crawl towards the sea in a group.

They usually move at night to avoid predators. However, since they’re not that fast, they have to move quickly to ensure that daylight doesn’t find them crawling. If they move to the sea during the day, they can die of dehydration or get eaten by crabs and birds.

When they get into the sea, the hatchlings start to swim, and with the help of sea currents, they are carried to the open ocean. Here, they find seaweed, which is their food source until they become juveniles. Once they can hunt, the juveniles swim and join the mature turtles in their natural habitat.

Inside the waters, baby turtles face predation from big fish, sharks, and circling birds. Of all the hatchlings that emerge from the eggs, only a few manage to live to adulthood. Therefore, it’s vividly clear that baby turtles survive on their own until adulthood.

Where can You Release a Baby Turtle?  

Just because baby turtles can survive independently, this doesn’t mean that you release captive-hatched turtles in the wild. While they’re capable of enduring harsh conditions and circumstances, only a significant portion of the hatched baby turtles reach adulthood.

Therefore, the most plausible thing to do is to take your hatchlings into a zoo or park, give them out to for adoption center, or take them to your local pet shop. Releasing a turtle into a pond will be a disservice.

Will Turtles Released in the Wild try to Return Home?

According to research, turtles released in the wild will always try to return home. When researchers placed trackers in three turtles thrown out of captivity, only one of them didn’t return home.

Surprisingly, one of the turtles traveled a record distance of more than 117 km to get its original home. Therefore, before you release your turtle in the wild, you should never forget that it can come back.

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