New Laws Protect Native Turtle/Reptile Species
October 21, 2020 was a great day for wildlife conservation in our state. Governor Henry McMaster signed into law a bill to protect native reptiles and amphibians from exploitation. This new law also set regulations for unlawful release of nonnative reptiles which has been an issue for a long time in South Carolina.
Over the last decade South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) has seen an increase in the reptile and amphibian trade. Recent high-profile investigations began in SC and brought a lot of attention to the exploitation of native reptiles and amphibians.
According the SCDNR website many of our native species are in high demand in the pet trade and are sold in excess of $1,000 per animal, especially in Asia. South Carolina was one of the only southeastern states with no regulations therefore more collectors harvested from our state. Acknowledgement of our need for laws to protect wildlife led to the writing and passing into law of ACT 177.
SCDNR has been going above and beyond to educate the public about the new laws. They recently released a FAQ document to help us understand the changes. Here are the basics you need to know.
What does this new law change for native reptiles and amphibians?
Act 177 protects native turtles, establishes possession limits, and allows those that exceed possession limits to register their collection for a temporary exemption. It also allows SCDNR to manage native reptiles and amphibians through regulation, as well as making it illegal to release or let escape nonnative wildlife and provides increased penalties for violations. This bill also gives SCDNR the authority to regulate potentially damaging or invasive species.
What is the current regulation when it comes to the sale, transfer and possession of native reptiles and amphibians?
Previously there was little protection or regulation of sale and transfer of native reptiles and amphibians, which led to many wild South Carolina species being targeted for collection, potentially contributing to population declines. Before, all native species could be bought, sold, and possessed in unlimited quantity, except species listed as endangered or threatened in South Carolina.
With the passage of the new law and associated regulations, most native species are protected from wild collection and sale. However, important species in the pet trade, like corn snakes reproduced in captivity, can continue to be traded. Regulations identify species that may be bought and sold without harm to wild populations. Species that are not state listed, or otherwise regulated may continue to be possessed.
Does this change anything for nonnative species?
Before this bill, there was no restriction or penalty for the release or escape of most nonnative wildlife in South Carolina. This bill makes that illegal and establishes a penalty for violations.
What is that penalty?
This is a misdemeanor offense and upon conviction is subject to a fine of up to $2,500 and/or imprisonment of up to a year.
What are some of the more common nonnative species people encounter in the pet trade?
Red-Eared Sliders are your typical pet sore or flea market turtle for sale. Except for a few species, almost any species of snake, turtle, tortoise or amphibians sold in pet stores are considered nonnative. As a good rule, never release any animal that was kept captive. It most likely lacks the foraging and survival skills needed to survive, it will not be acclimated to the climate, and it could expose wild populations to parasites and disease. You can visit DNR.SC.GOV for a list of what is still allowed.
What are the possession limits now to native turtles?
The following personal possession limits, subject to an aggregate limit of ten, are established:
Florida cooter (Pseudemys floridana): 5
River cooter (Pseudemys concinna): 5
Chicken turtle (Deirochelys reticularia): 5
Eastern painted turtle (Chrysemys picta): 5
Spiny softshell turtle (Apalone spinifera): 5
Florida softshell turtle (Apalone ferox): 5
Eastern mud turtle (Kinosternon subrubrum): 5
Striped mud turtle (Kinosternon baurii): 5
Common musk turtle (Sternotherus odoratus): 5
Yellow-bellied slider (Trachemys scripta): 5
Common snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina): 5
Eastern box turtle (Terrapene carolina): 2
Diamondback terrapin (Malaclemys terrapin): 2
A total limit of 10 turtles. The law allows those who exceed these limits to register their animals for a temporary exemption. Prior to the bill, there were no limits on possession of native reptiles and amphibians except species listed as threatened or endangered. Possession of threatened and endangered species still require a permit.
Who needs to register their turtle collection?
Anyone who owns more than the limits listed above.
What if I find a turtle/snake and just want to keep it as a pet?
The way the current laws read, if the species in question is not protected, threatened nor endangered, there is no penalty for keeping a wild caught pet. We do greatly discourage anyone from taking wildlife and keeping it as a pet. It is impossible to provide a proper environment and diet for native wildlife in captivity.
What if I find a sick or injured turtle?
If you find a turtle that you believe to be sick or injured you can transport the turtle to a wildlife rescue that is permitted under the new laws.
What rescues are permitted to rehabilitate reptiles and amphibians?
Currently the closest wildlife rescue is Carolina Wildlife Center in Columbia, SC. Our rescue will need to update our enclosures and intake areas to accommodate the new laws. We planned to do this last year, but our funding has suffered due to COVID-19. Our current focus is species for which we are already permitted. This year we will be one of the only wildlife rescues in operation still permitted for fawns. Our focus, until more funding can be secured, will be exotic species, small mammals, and fawns.
SCDNR List of Permitted Reptile Rescues
Jay Butfiloski, Certified Wildlife Biologist and Furbearer & Alligator Program Coordinator, SCDNR
Andrew Grosse, Herpetologist, SCDNR
Questions? Contact Andrew Grosse at firstname.lastname@example.org