We received a flurry of complaints from islanders after a carnival game at the county fair began giving away Cumberland slider turtles and frogs as prizes last week. Eyewitnesses also reported seeing a turtle thrown from a 50-foot ride.
Within 24 hours, the San Juan County Sheriff’s Office had informed the booth operator that the practice was illegal. Sheriff Ron Krebs also informed the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife of the incident.
San Juan County Parks and Fair Director Dona Wuthnow explained that the county isn’t directly involved in the specifics of what their contractors do within the carnival side of the fair.
“The county will be working with Paradise Amusements to eliminate the use of live animals in their contracted activities with San Juan County Fair,” Wuthnow said in a press release. “The county has contracted with Paradise Amusements to provide carnival and rides for the county fair for many years and hopes to continue the relationship in a way that meets our community’s expectations to the best of our ability.”
We don’t blame the county fair for what happened, but we do urge them to be very specific with future contractors about expectations of service and what is legally permitted. We hope the fair’s statement about “eliminating the use of live animals” also pertains to goldfish. There is absolutely no reason why a living creature should be used as a prize, and we’ve always been disturbed by the dozens of fish that are handed out every year at the fair.
We were deeply saddened by this story but also heartened by the swift response to halt the practice. Island Haven on San Juan Island announced that it will facilitate the rehoming of any baby turtles won by anyone who now can’t take care of them. The rescue has community members with turtle experience ready to take them in. The organization said it is prepared to take in the turtles, no questions asked. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or text or call 360-622-8548.
Caring for Cumberland turtles is not easy. According to www.reptilesmagazine.com, adults can grow 16-18 inches and live more than 20 years. A 75-gallon tank is considered the minimum size to house one of the smaller turtles in this family. A 125-gallon tank or larger is required for some of the bigger species. They can be kept in aquariums, turtle tubs, etc. Accessories include a water filtration system, a water heater, a basking dock and a basking lamp.
There is a good reason that giving away reptiles and amphibians is illegal. In 1975, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned the sale of turtles under 4 inches long because they are carriers of Salmonella, which can easily be transmitted to humans. In 2013, a Californian faced a $1,000 fine and possible probation for giving away baby turtles as a carnival prize at the California Mid-State Fair.
In addition, live animals that are given as prizes are often later released into ponds or lakes, where they pose problems to other wildlife. Although the Cumberlands are not classified invasive and are not a prohibited species under WDFW rules, they are not to be released into ponds or lakes. If you or your child received a turtle or frog at the fair and no longer wish to care for it, call Island Haven to arrange for pick-up.
For a list of Washington invasive turtle species, visit https://wdfw.wa.gov/species-habitats/invasive/species?combine=turtle&category=All.
“This is the first time I’ve heard of vendors giving out turtles as prizes, so it doesn’t appear to happen often. Especially since small turtles are prohibited under federal rules,” said Ruth Milner of WDFW. “It’s a terrible idea to release any kind of pet turtle into the wild because of the potential for them to carry diseases that could impact our native species.”
We hope Paradise Amusements learned an important lesson and will never give away reptiles or amphibians again.