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Federally-protected loggerhead turtle to return to Florida August 10 

August 2005

A loggerhead turtle brought illegally to Minnesota as a baby from a beach in southern Florida will soon return home thanks to the Minnesota Zoo, Sun Country Airlines and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Loggerhead Sea Turtle
Minnesota Zoo Photo

On Wednesday, August 10, the turtle and its escort from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will board an early morning flight to Fort Myers, Florida, courtesy of Sun Country Airlines who donated the tickets.

We will provide this passenger with top-notch service, said Sun Country’s Chief Operating Officer Shaun Nugent. We pride ourselves on giving all of our passengers a great experience and although a rare loggerhead turtle does not fit our usual customer profile, this will be no exception.

Upon arrival in Florida, the turtle will be transported to the Naples
Nature Center operated by the Conservancy of South West Florida, a
non-profit organization that specializes in conservation and rehabilitation of Florida’s sea turtles and other wildlife. The turtle will remain at the Center for about one year, when it is large enough to survive on its own in the wild.

The turtle has been at the Minnesota Zoo since September, 2004, when Zoo aquarists received a call from the Service’s law enforcement office in St. Paul which had confiscated a one-week old loggerhead turtle that was smuggled to Minnesota from a beach in Sanibel Island, Florida. The turtle needed to be cared for until the legal issues surrounding the case could be resolved and Zoo staff agreed to help. Just the size of a 50-cent piece and weighing only ˝ ounce, the young turtle arrived at the Zoo and was promptly housed in a 70-gallon glass aquarium in a holding area where it was fed and cared for. After outgrowing its space, the turtle was transferred to a 200-gallon fiberglass aquarium, then to a 150-gallon glass tank in Discovery Bay so it could be exhibited to the public. The turtle now weighs about 8 pounds.

Loggerhead turtles are listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act and protected by federal and state laws. It is unlawful to touch or disturb nesting sea turtles, hatchlings, or their nests. Federal law prohibits the illegal take, possession, and transport or trade of loggerhead turtles without a permit. Violators face a maximum of one year in prison and/or a $100,000 fine for each offense. In a previous case, an Ohio schoolteacher was fined $2,800 for illegally taking eggs from a nest on Florida’s East Coast in 2001. Some of those eggs later hatched, and the hatchlings were repatriated into the Atlantic.

When people travel to Florida and other exotic locations they should enjoy the wildlife they encounter but they should leave it alone and don’t bring it home. It’s not healthy for the wildlife, and in most cases it’s illegal, said MaryJane Lavin, special agent in charge of the Service’s Division of Wildlife in the Twin Cities.

Loggerhead turtles get their name from their broad head. An adult
loggerhead will have between a 2 ˝ foot 3 ˝ foot long carapace (shell) length and will weigh approximately 350 pounds. Adult loggerheads are primarily carnivorous with their favorite food items being shellfish, horseshoe crabs, clams, mussels, and other invertebrates. Major threats to the loggerhead population include fishing, pollution, and development of shorelines. Buildings and lighting both reduce the amount of appropriate nesting habitats.

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