1950s Madness: The ‘Turtle Bowl’

The 1950s saw the mass import into the UK for the pet trade of hatchling Red-eared Terrapins (Trachemys (then Pseudemys) scripta elegans) or to US readers, turtles, or Red-eared Sliders. Most were in poor condition when they arrived from ‘farms’ in the southern USA and even those in good condition were usually housed and fed incorrectly. The death rate was not far off 100% after a few months. Moreover, it was eventually realised that they often carried Salmonella which they could pass on to their owners. Because they were farmed there was no effect on the wild population but from the point of view of animal welfare, the pet trade was at its worst. The small percentage that were reared more or less successfully to adulthood presented a housing problem to their owners. Some went to zoos (with the excess in the KBO* category). Many were and possibly still are released into the wild. That is not a long-term UK problem (although it is for warmer countries) since while many survive their eggs do not.

Keeping terrapins successfully was actually hampered by the pet trade. I was reading through old copies of the Aquarist for this blog when I was reminded of the infamous turtle bowl. This advertisement is from 1959:

 

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A less suitable form of housing can hardly be imagined. The food was equally unsuitable. The inhabitants slowly faded away, short of vitamins A and D, calcium and warmth. This was the only style I saw for sale in UK but I see photographs of a different but similar design in the USA. The question is, of course: who could have been in such a state of ignorance to have actually designed such a death trap and why, when their complete unsuitability was pointed out, did the pet trade continue to sell them? Terrapins and turtle bowls were a blot on the 1950s and 1960s landscape that the pet trade and pet supply trade should never be allowed to forget.

*Killed by Order. The abbreviation used in reports to mark the disposal of old, insane, vicious or excess animals

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