Jessica Leigh Hester is a former senior associate editor at CityLab, covering environment and culture. Her work also appears in the New Yorker, The Atlantic, New York Times, Modern Farmer, Village Voice, Slate, BBC, NPR, and other outlets.
They’re tiny turtles, confiscated in a warehouse raid.
New Yorkers love to regale people with tales of cramped apartment quarters. You’ll hear stories of summers spent sleeping four to a futon, or a prime East Village space too small for a twin mattress. Lorri Cramer has a story to trump them all. The Upper West Side woman currently has 620 roommates: contraband baby turtles rescued from a warehouse.
The tiny red-eared sliders were imported by California-based Yi Bao Produce Group and destined for Chinatown storefronts, the New York Post reports. The turtles were confiscated Thursday by the Department of Environmental Conservation. State and federal agencies regularly monitor imports and exports of the reptiles. Millions of hatchlings travel to China, where they’re staples at food markets. In the U.S., they often end up in pet stores.
Most sales, however, are illicit. The Food and Drug Administration’s 1975 Public Health Services Act banned the sale of turtles smaller than 4 inches long in an effort to curb the transmission of salmonella bacteria. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that this ban prevents as many as 100,000 infections per year. Any person caught hawking the small turtles or turtle eggs can be slapped with a $1,000 fine and face up to a year in jail for each violation. (This happened in 2013 to a California fair vendor who gave them away as prizes in a ring-toss game.)
Raids raise one question with murky answers: What can be done with all of these turtles? They can’t be turned loose into the wild: When owners discard the non-native species into local ponds, the hustling sliders beat out locals such as painted turtles and box turtles for grub and turf.
That’s how the turtles came to shack up with Cramer. Instead of euthanizing the little paddlers—a method endorsed by the FDA until 2013—the DEC decided to try to re-house them. They reached out to Cramer, the head of wildlife rehabilitation at the non-profit New York Turtle and Tortoise Society. Cramer told The Post: “I thought they were giving me 52. And when they got here, they brought 650.”
So now, like many other New Yorkers, Cramer is looking to get rid of her roommates. But ideally, she’d like to see these ones end up in loving homes with lots of space to swim.