Lifestyle & Culture

Tortoises in Trouble

March 7, 2021



A FULL-PAGE ad in a recent issue of the Wall Street Journal warns that turtles will be completely gone in 50 years unless we do something about it. Now I love animals more than people, as anyone who knows me would agree. But turtles? I had to stop and think—what do they do? How do they add to society, or the planet or the environment? Have I ever known a turtle personally? No, except for a concrete garden statue I had for a while and then gave away to a friend when we moved.

I searched my brain for more turtle memories and finally found one underneath a pile of unread books with titles like The Rules of Football, Understanding the Stock Market and Taxes Made Easy, and it was a bad one: Once when Mitch and I were driving along a country road at dusk, at a fairly good clip because we had not seen another car in hours, suddenly there was a turtle in the road and we ran over it. I can still summon up the sound of the bump it made. I cried for at least an hour and thought of the turtle for days. That was about 15 years ago. Since then, nothing.

Then I remembered seeing a gigantic turtle in an aquarium somewhere. He was the size of a VW bug. I wondered how they had kidnapped him from his natural habitat and stuck him there for people to gawk at. That was sad. Naturally I cried for hours about him, too, and was reminded of a wonderful novel by Russell Hoban called Turtle Diary. Written in 1975, it concerns two middle-age strangers who meet at a London zoo and devise a plan to emancipate a giant turtle and return it to its rightful home in the ocean. (Definitely worth reading.)

I did not have a pet turtle as a child, nor did I get one for my own child when he was little. I have never had turtle soup, if there really is such a thing—I have never seen it on a menu anywhere, here or abroad. Despite graduating from New York University and then working at several newspapers, magazines and even The Humane Society of the United States during my career, all I know about turtles is that they move very slowly and live inside their shells.

I asked my husband how he felt about the demise of the turtles and his immediate answer was that he likes turtles. He went on to say that a turtle was his very first pet, that they live to be very old, like 100, and that he had three or four of them as a kid but they all died within months from soft-shell disease, which is why he had three or four of them, each one bought to replace the one that had died. (So much for living to 100.)

I am not sending money to the turtles. I don’t care if there are no turtles in 50 years, but it would be fabulous if there were no cancer, which is where my money goes.

—Andrea Rouda

Andrea Rouda blogs at The Daily Droid.

2 thoughts on “Tortoises in Trouble

  1. Nancy says:

    My dad, not the most lighthearted guy in the world, used to remind us all the time, No good deed goes unpunished. (Or was it, The way to hell is paved with good intentions? Either way, he’d see your story as confirmation that he had it right.)

  2. Terri says:

    My sister and I were driving on a road in Ohio and saw a turtle up ahead. We stopped the car and I got out and lifted the turtle, with the intention of putting it gently on the side of the road. The damn thing whipped its head out of the shell and tried to bite me. I dropped it like the proverbial hot potato and we waited for it to cross the road at its own pace.

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