Nature Ramble

Today, the Lake District, and a problem.

People out grow pets, fads bring on new pets, people can’t cope with the grown animals, fads disappear leaving an unwanted animals in their wake.

Often as not, this creates a problem, because you release the animal into the wild far from its natural habitat where things are different and it has to adapt, often at the expense of other animals that were part of the original scheme of things.

Abandoned terrapins stalk Lake District

Pets bought in the wake of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle craze have been let loose and now pose a threat to wildlife and children

Terrapins can grow to the size of dinner plates, and are aggressive and smelly Photograph: Graeme Robertson

The ducks at Tebay services in Cumbria have a pretty good life. A cracking view of the Pennines on one side and the Lakeland fells on the other; a lovely pond by the northbound restaurant and a diet supplemented by organic leftovers from the award-winning farm shop inside. Just don’t mention the terrapins.

A few years ago something odd befell these otherwise lucky ducks, according to Terry Bowes, director of Wetheriggs Zoo and Animal Sanctuary up the M6 at Clifton Dykes near Penrith. “I had a call from Tebay and a lady there said: ‘We’ve got a problem here. Some of our ducks only have one leg. I think they must have some sort of disease.’ I went down there to have a look, and what did we find? Three red-eared terrapins the size of dinner plates! They’d been chomping the ducks’ legs off!”

Last week Bowes caused a ripple of alarm when he warned parents in the Lake District to look out for marauding terrapins, which have been dumped in the national park’s waters after becoming too big for their owners to cope with. “If you have kids paddling in a river the turtles could easily snap off a toe or a finger. They can become quite aggressive when they have grown,” he said.

So should holidaymakers panic at the growing terrapin threat? Bowes wouldn’t go quite that far. It turns out his intervention was more a cri de coeur. He was exasperated at the routine abandonment of creatures that suffered the misfortune of becoming fashionable at the time of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle craze.

“I was just a bit fed up with the situation,” he said on Friday as he showed the Observer around his charmingly ramshackle sanctuary. “The other Monday we had 14 terrapins come in on one day – by the end of the week we had more than 20. In the last year we’ve had more than 100 from 15 different species of freshwater terrapins. I was thinking what we could do about them all and then I heard about another Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle film coming out soon and steam came out of my ears. I was thinking, ‘Oh no, this is only going to get worse.'”

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Before getting pets for your kids, have a good think about the future and the consequences.

4 responses to this post.

  1. We had a similar thing with the 101 Dalmatian movie. Parents thought the spotted dogs were so cute, but after buying them found the breed doesn’t have the proper temperament for being around children. Easter time also brings the purchase of rabbits who were born in captivity as pets, but then set free when families realize how smelly their cages can get in such a short amount of time. Before purchasing a pet it would be nice if people did their homework before purchasing an animal.



    • >lsf, we are such a thoughtless species. I didn’t know that Dalmations weren’t good with kids. Rabbits have always been a problem. Our kids had rabbits and guinea pigs until the dogs from nextdoor broke in and killed them all; end of experiment. Hardest thing I ever had to do, explain to two under fives that their pets were no more.




      • That would have been hard, your children must have been heartbroken. Our first pet, other than a dog was a hamster my youngest wanted. I knew it was only expected to live about 18 months. Troy must have been one content hamster because he lived 3 and a half years. We watched him go grey, start to bald in spots, yet he was so active and happy. When he finally passed away it was a huge shock as we started to think he would live forever.

        I had a rabbit once, but being indoors couldn’t handle the mess. I found it a home with a friend who built it an outdoor run.


      • If you’re well cared for why pop off? Enjoy. Sounds like Troy did okay for himself.

        Yes, rabbits are far too smelly fr indoors… phew!



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