Conservation rangers on London’s Hampstead Heath are rounding up 150 feral red-eared terrapins which are terrorizing local wildlife and have invaded bathing ponds.
The reptiles were pets bought for children during the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles craze in the early 1990s and were later dumped on the heath, a recreation area for thousands of north London residents. As well as feasting on frogs, toads, newts, fish and even ducklings, the creatures carry salmonella, making them a danger to humans.
Rangers have laid traps and plan to evict them from London completely. An initial plan was to send them to a sanctuary in an extinct volcano in Tuscany but they are now more likely to be moved to the less glamorous location of Norfolk in eastern England.
“It would cost 25 pounds ($50) per head to send them to Tuscany,” Said Rob Renwick, 33, conservation team leader for the heath. “That would be the same cost as having them euthanised.”
The heath covers 791 acres in the north London boroughs of Camden and Barnet and is four miles from the centre of London. It is mostly managed by the City of London Corporation, which also provides local government services for the financial district known as the City.
The terrapins spend their time sunbathing and swimming in a series of ponds, which are meant for human bathers and as a sanctuary for birds. They can live 30 years, grow to the size of dinner plates and weigh three pounds. The females can lay 20 or 30 eggs each and rising temperatures mean those are more likely to hatch successfully.
“If that happened we would be inundated,” said Renwick. “They started off as cute little things bought in a pet shop in the late 1980s and early 1990s but they take a lot of feeding and you have to be very careful with them because of the salmonella.
“The children grow up and don’t want to look after them any more, the keeper outgrows the pet and they’ve ended up here. They are an alien species so they don’t have any predators and they eat everything. There is no way to limit the numbers because there is so much food for them.”
People who dumped the terrapins, which are originally from the U.S., faced a fine of up to 5,000 pounds if they were caught, he said.
The rangers have erected traps made from plastic piping and chicken wire and have so far caught about half a dozen.
“They are quite hard to spot,” said conservation ranger Ian Shepherd, 53, as he fished a struggling terrapin out of a trap. “The claws are pin-sharp and they’d go straight into you. The beak could take the tip of your finger off.”
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