Thinking about getting a terrapin after watching TMNT? Don’t.

Don't be impulsive.

By He Ruiming | August 17, 2014

Caught the latest very mediocre (but starring Megan Fox who is as stunning as ever) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie?

Are you tempted to purchase cute red-eared terrapins and then experiment with them to see if they can become six-foot tall shrek-turtles?


Well, I hate to burst your bubble, but they probably won’t. But what more likely will happen, is this:

You will keep them in a basin (probably red or blue) and feed them turtle sticks for a maximum of one year (often shorter). You will watch them grow old, decide they aren’t as cute as they used to be and that they aren’t worth your time. You will release them into the wild because you think that’s where they belong, thinking that you are doing a good deed allowing your pet to live out the rest of its days in peace.

You could not be more wrong.

According to a 2009 Master’s thesis about the red-eared terrapin by the National University of Singapore, setting your terrapin free into a pond in a park or into the reservoir may be one of the worst things you can do for your pet. But mostly, the harm is absorbed by Singapore’s environment.

Like their fictional counterparts (the TMNT franchise is 30 years old this year), red-eared terrapins live exceptionally long for a pet. Between 20 to 50 years, to be exact. That’s potentially five decades of messing up Singapore’s wilderness.


Here’s how exactly:

1. Your terrapin competes with native turtles 

Your red-eared terrapin comes from the United States. They do not belong in Singapore.

Consider the native Malayan Box turtle (pictured below) and Spiny Terrapin (second picture below), both of which are endangered and share a similar habitat with the red-eared terrapin.






The red-eared terrapin is more aggressive and more fertile than the Singapore’s native turtles. The foreign species are more adept at spawning and winning the turf. Going by the “foreign talent” analogy, it is the same as saying that locals are going up against expats that have adapted better and get laid more often.


2. Your terrapin competes with virtually every other native species

But it’s just not the native turtles that face the wrath of the red-eared terrapin. Frogs, fishes, shrimp and molluscs form just a fraction of the terrapin’s diet. In countries such as Canada, Germany, France and Australia, red-eared terrapins have threatened the ecosystem to such an extent that they have been banned in some areas. People ban these things for a reason.


3. Your terrapin can spread diseases


Though less somewhat less of an issue, it is also worth mentioning that the red-eared terrapin is also an agent for Salmonella, a bacteria that causes food poisoning in humans.


Preventive measures to stop the rot:

So, here are some suggestions on how the red-eared terrapin population can be controlled in Singapore:


a. Stop selling red-eared terrapin hatchlings in Singapore


Data from the Agri-food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA), the statutory board in charge of the import and sales of red-eared terrapin, showed that more than one million juvenile terrapins were imported in 2007, a 40% increase from 2001.

A study in 2009 showed that 44% of terrapin owners end up being releasing their pets into the wild.

Many people buy terrapins when they are young, small and green. If you don’t want one that’s older and not as cute, then perhaps you shouldn’t be owning one in the first place. Period.


b. Increase the cost price for red-eared terrapins in Singapore


Terrapin’s going rate is about $2 to $5 at a local pet shop, which is too cheap for a creature that will outlive dogs, cats and most middle-aged human beings. I recommend that we do it the Singaporean way: Increase the price and let people bid for some sort certification to buy a terrapin. You can call this COET (Certification of Entitlement for a Terrapin).

(Another more plausible option would be to increase the licensing fees for pet shops to sell terrapins, making it less profitable for pet shops to sell them.)


c. IUs for each terrapin


Expanding on the previous point, each terrapin shall come built in with a In-Shell Unit (IU). This IU shall have a serial number that is registered to both pet and pet owner. In the event your terrapin is found in the wild, you will be struck with a maximum fine of $10,000 or imprisoned up to 12 months.

When your red-eared terrapin finally dies, you will submit the IU back to the AVA  (Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore) to get a refund of your COET  (see earlier point). In the meantime, your money won’t go to waste. It will generate interest in the form of the Chelonian Probation Fund (CPF) of around 2% to 3%  per annum, subject to the market.

That ought to stop any impulse buys.


d. Cull them


Only as a last resort, we could always kill them. Just saying. I’m not asking you to run them over with your car, or go out hunting armed with a hammer. Both are equally messy and cause a world of hurt to the terrapins (and also the cleaners). A simple lethal injection is humane and painless. Leave it to the professionals.

But of course, prevention is better than cure.


If you could educate your loved ones about the possibly lifelong responsibility of looking after a terrapin, perhaps less people would buy them. Or, if you are able to convince them that setting their terrapins ‘free’ is actually pet abandonment and can endanger our local wildlife, then maybe we wouldn’t have so many of them swimming around in our waterways. They get to save their money, the terrapins won’t get cruelly abandoned and local species get to have less competition.  Now, that’s what I call a win-win situation. Except for the pet shop owners, of course.

So, would you consider carefully before heading out to purchase a Leonardo, Donatello, Michelangelo or Raphael?

Who are we kidding, with those red bands on their heads, they are all Raphael!


Find Mothership.SG on Facebook and Twitter.

About He Ruiming

Ruiming is a freelance writer that has lived in Singapore, Melbourne and Hongkong. When he’s not being snarky on Mothership or waddling waist-deep in deadlines, he finds time for life’s simple pleasures: Teh-O PengLao Gan Ma chilli oil and HBO’s award-winning TV series Game Of Thrones.

Morning Commute

Interesting stories to discuss with your colleagues in office later