Nova Scotia

Halifax family loses turtle in court fight

A Halifax family who went to court over a turtle they found in a ditch has lost their battle to keep the reptile as a pet.
This Florida red-bellied cooter was found in a pond in South Carolina. (Wikimedia Commons)

A Halifax family who went to court over a turtle they found in a ditch has lost their battle to keep the reptile as a pet.

In March, Mark Palmer and his family found a Florida red-bellied cooter in a ditch by the side of the road near Whynachts Point. It was upside down and "likely to succumb to the elements" if it was left there, according to the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia.

The family rescued the turtle and contacted the Nova Scotia Museum in order to accurately identify the turtle species in case it was endangered. Palmer indicated the family wanted the turtle — named Leaf by his two daughters — back if it was possible.

The turtle subsequently ended up in the hands of the Department of Natural Resources and the Palmer family was convinced it would be euthanized.

The reptile was taken to the Shubenacadie Wildlife Park, where it has remained while the case has been before the courts. The Palmers argued the turtle ceased to be in the wild when they took possession of it and that Nova Scotia's definition of wildlife was too broad.

The Department of Natural Resources has the authority to euthanize wildlife if it's in poor health or if department officials feel an alien species is a threat to native breeds.

The origin of this particular turtle — indigenous to Florida — is not known. It was likely brought to the province illegally and either released into the wild or escaped from captivity, according to the court.

In a court decision dated June 20, Justice Glen McDougall ruled the family cannot keep the turtle because it is still considered to be wildlife.

"Its temporary removal from the wild does not alter its usual status of being 'wild by nature,'" McDougall wrote.

"I commend the Palmer family for their efforts to save and preserve this turtle. And, while I have no doubt that they would live up to their commitment to keep the animal in captivity as best they could, this does not override or displace the province's rightful ownership of the creature."

The Florida red-bellied cooter, which was taken to the Shubenacadie Wildlife Park to be treated for various health issues, will remain at the park. Department of Natural Resources officials said for now, there are no plans to euthanize the turtle.