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Friday, 16 November, 2001, 15:47 GMT
'Hero Turtle' craze leads to duck deaths
Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles
Red-eared terrapins can grow to dinner plate size
Terrapins thought to have been dumped in a lake by fans of the cartoon "Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles" have been killing ducklings in a London park.

A hunt for the "monsters" responsible for the deaths in Highgate finally ended on Friday.

Wildlife officers said the reptiles have been "terrorising" Waterlow Park, emerging from the pond to drag young birds beneath the water.

People who abandon the creatures could face a prison sentence, according to the government.

We have seen them go for chicks of all sorts of birds, from ducks to moorhens, coots and geese

Wildlife officer Dave Humphrys
Now wardens have warned parents to think twice before buying their children exotic pets for Christmas.

It is understood the red-eared terrapins were abandoned several years ago, as the craze for the children's cartoon, which was also known as "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles", died down.

However, they have since grown from the size of a 50p to that of the average dinner plate.

Dave Humphrys, a wildlife liaison officer, warned: "People get these animals but don't realise how big they get and how difficult they can be to handle, so they have to get rid of them.

"If wildlife centres can't find a home for them then they let them into the wild, without thinking of the consequences."

Red-eared terrapins
The dumped terrapins have colonised the lake
Mr Humphrys explained the terrapins have now colonised around the ornamental lake.

"We have seen them go for chicks of all sorts of birds, from ducks to moorhens, coots and geese," he added.

Park staff have so far managed to capture three of the terrapins and transferred them to wildlife sanctuaries.

However, many more are thought to remain in the ponds.

Populations of young birds in the park have dropped recently as a result of the terrapin menace, said Camden council employee Mr Humphrys.

Importation ban

He said: "The birds have a number of predators including foxes, domestic cats, crows and seagulls, but it only takes a small addition to upset the balance."

A spokeswoman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said an offender found guilty of dumping terrapins could be jailed for two years.

They are classified as a non-native species under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, and cannot be let out into the wild.

The importation of terrapins into the UK for anything other than scientific purposes was banned in 1997.

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See also:

21 Jun 01 | Entertainment
Ninja Turtles set for comeback
07 Apr 00 | Scotland
Turtle mania causes welfare headache
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