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Friday, 17 May, 2002, 11:36 GMT 12:36 UK
Italian job for unwanted terrapins
Terrapins in a south Wales park are being rescued by volunteers and transported to a new home in Italy.

Around 28 of the unwanted pet terrapins currently live in the pond inside the tropical conservatory at Roath Park in Cardiff.

Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles
Heroes in a half-shell: But few knew of the trouble they would cause
Many more of the creatures live in the cold waters outside after being abandoned.

Starting with the terrapins from the conservatory, volunteers are setting about trapping the reptiles - they will then be flown to a more suitable colony in Tuscany.

The invasion of terrapins into Roath Park has been linked to the Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles craze of the early 1990s.

The cartoon adventures of Raphael, Donatello, Michaelangelo and Leonardo even spawned a series of movies.

It is thought that many people bought the animals as pets and presents.

But they can grow from the size of a 50p to that of the average dinner plate, and it is thought people released them when they became too difficult to look after.

Unfortunately, Wales is a far from ideal place for terrapins to live.

People get these animals but don't realise how big they get and how difficult they can be to handle

Dave Humphrys, Wildlife liaison officer

The climate is too cold for them, and they can also attack other wildlife.

In 2001, there were reports of terrapins killing ducklings in a London park.

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

The move to Tuscany is part of a Europe-wide programme for the terrapins, which are freshwater turtles.

An attempt to rescue the terrapins from the larger lakes outside will be made later in the year.

Jail term

Parents are generally discouraged from buying exotic pets for their children, and a government official has warned people who abandon the creatures that they could face a prison sentence.

"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," warned Dave Humphrys, a wildlife liaison officer.

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

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.

See also:

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Ninja Turtles set for comeback
07 Apr 00 | Scotland
Turtle mania causes welfare headache
07 Jul 00 | Sci/Tech
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