Photography by ALICE MARY HERDEN
In 1990, Susan Tellem and Marshall Thompson co-founded American Tortoise Rescue located in Malibu California. They also created World Turtle Day as a way to bring awareness to the public about turtles and tortoises. Turtle Day was celebrated last week on May 23.
“I have always been an animal person and always had a strong love for animals,” Tellem said.
It started in her early twenties, while actively involved in cat rescues. During this time Susan met her husband, Marshall, a cat person as well. He said to her...” Hey, you know I really like turtles.”
So from that day on, their journey into the turtle and tortoise world came to be.
“We started American Tortoise Rescue 30 years ago, and we found that we were the first national turtle and tortoise rescue in the US. We discovered that most people didn’t know about turtle keeping. We thought after ten years of beginning the rescue and our sanctuary, we decided that there needed to be a broader educational campaign that would capture the interest of a lot of people that didn’t know what to do with their turtle(s).” Tellem explained.
In 2018, California suffered an unimaginable loss due to wildfires, which took a devastating toll on Susan and Marshall. The Woolsey Fire burned over 96,000 acres in Los Angeles and Ventura counties. The wildfire burned everything Susan and Marshall had built on their property.
“When we had that big fire in California a couple of years ago, it burnt down our turtle hospital and our sanctuary,” Tellem said. “It was pretty brutal; we had evacuated with as many turtles as we could in both of our cars.”
During the evacuation, most of the turtles were in hibernation. After Marshall and Susan were able to return to their property, they found that many of the turtles and tortoises did survive, including two of their roosters.
The devastation in the previous years has not stopped Susan and Marshall. Their passion, heart, and dedication for these amazing reptiles grow stronger every year.
“We’re very happy with what we’ve been able to do and how much we’ve been able to help educate people,” Tellem said. “We’re really reaching the people we wanted too with an educational campaign. We feel like we’ve succeeded at this point in achieving the goal we set twenty years ago.”
Florida has twenty-six turtles and one tortoise, the Gopher Tortoise.
Cool facts about turtles
Turtles are the oldest reptiles in the world, older than alligators!
A turtle’s shell is part of its skeleton made up of 50 bones, including their rib cage and spine.
Different turtles have different appetites. Land-dwelling turtles forage on grasses and fruit, while sea-dwelling turtles love squid and jellyfish.
As the turtle grows, its shell grows with them.
There are over 300 species of turtle and tortoise in the world.
Below is the list of turtles we have here in Florida.
Emydidae is a class of turtles that have hard shells, and they live in freshwater as well as brackish waters.
Coastal Plain Cooter
Common Box Turtle
Escambia Map Turtle
Barbour’s Map Turtle
Florida Red-bellied Cooter
Eastern River Cooter
Snapping turtles. These turtles have strong and forceful jaws for snapping up crabs!
Alligator snapping turtle (The largest alligator snapping turtle was over 200 pounds!)
Common snapping turtle
Eastern mud turtle
Striped mud turtle
Common musk turtle
Loggerhead musk turtle
Spiny softshell turtle
Smooth softshell turtle
Florida softshell turtle
Hernando County has valuable habitats for a variety of turtles and the Florida Gopher Tortoise, whether they are water-dependent or sand-dependent. They all are in perfect harmony with nature and an essential part of the survival of wildlife.
Ways you can celebrate turtles...
Spread the word.
Learn more about the turtles and tortoises in your area.
Seek out turtles at your local ponds and learn to identify the different species.
Create a turtle coloring page project. Draw turtles in their wonderful and amazing environment.
How you can help
Avoid buying turtles from pet stores. Adopt instead.
Never take a turtle out of its natural habitat.
If you see a turtle or tortoise in the road and you feel it’s in danger of being hit by a car you can help by placing it out of harm’s way in the same direction that it was going.
DO NOT take the turtle or tortoise with you or move it to a different area. Also, do not put your life in danger to move the tortoise.
Learn more here: https://myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/wildlife/gopher-tortoise/help/
Find out more about World Turtle Day by visiting their website: https://www.worldturtleday.org
“We are looking forward to world turtle day again this year,” Tellem said.