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Researchers plea. Don’t release your pet into the wild.

By Costa Maragos Posted: July 11, 2015 9:00 a.m.

Biology student Kelsey Marchand with a red-eared slider, which is an invasive species.
Biology student Kelsey Marchand with a red-eared slider, which is an invasive species. (Photo courtesy of Alyssa Stulberg).

University of Regina researchers and Wascana Centre Authority are pleading with the public to not release their pets into the wild.

The plea comes after the researchers discovered red-eared sliders living in Wascana Lake. The turtles are popular pets but they are not native to this part of the world.

“We’ve found evidence of multiple sliders in Wascana,” says U of R Biology student and researcher Kelsey Marchand who is part of a team conducting research into the Western Painted Turtle, which is native to Saskatchewan.
“Released pets harbour bacteria and diseases that native turtles cannot defend themselves against. Also, pet turtles may not have what it takes to survive in Saskatchewan, so releasing them is actually cruel.”

red-eared turtle
Close-up view of the red-eared slider.

The release into the wild of non-native species such as the red-eared slider is known to have led to some real ecological and conservation issues.

Alberta launched a “Don’t Let It Loose” campaign this summer after numerous reports of ornamental fish in lakes and Rivers. Not only are the fish surviving but they are growing in such large numbers that they now threaten the livelihood of native species.

“This is a pervasive issue,” says Dr. Chris Somers, Associate Professor of Biology and one of the supervisors of the turtle project at Wascana Centre. “I don’t think many people in Saskatchewan realize just how important it is.”

Dr. Somers also supervises Biology students working across Saskatchewan where other non-native species have been discovered in the wild.

“Students co-supervised by myself and Dr. Ray Poulin  (Research Scientist and Curator of Vertebrate Zoology at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum) picked up a Mexican black kingsnake near Estevan in June. Someone released their pet. Koi fish that were once pets are now established in Boundary Reservoir. Koi is an invasive species with the potential to alter the local ecosystem,” says Dr. Somers.

Dr. Somers isn’t alone in his concerns.

“In general, it is a humongous issue,” says Chet Neufeld, chair of the Saskatchewan Invasive Species Council, a non-profit organization which receives support from the Provincial and Federal governments. “A single species could proliferate to the point that it will have noticeable detrimental effects on the province as a whole.”

Neufeld points to the devastation in the Great Lakes system caused by the Zebra Mussel, which has now spread to Manitoba and South Dakota.

“Once Zebra Mussels get into the river system you have lost that river system,” says Neufeld.

Wascana Centre Authority has been monitoring the Carp population in Wascana Lake for the past two years as this is an invasive species.

Meanwhile, if you are a pet owner and can no longer look after your animal, Dr. Somers pleads: “Please don’t release your pet into the wild. Find it a new home with someone who can continue to provide proper care. If all else fails, consult with your veterinarian about humane options. I know people mean well, but the consequences of releasing pets can be dire.”

The Government of Saskatchewan has information on invasive species threatening the province's ecosystem. Please visit here for information and what you can do to help.