Why does Virginia need a Box Turtle Sanctuary?

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Eastern Box Turtles

Are among the most beautiful  turtles in the world and were once common and easily found. Habitat loss due to development and roadways have decimated many breeding populations. Poaching has become a major concern as Box Turtles are also highly praised as pets and consumed for assumed medicinal properties in many Asian countries. Unlike much wildlife that relocates when put in harm’s way, the Eastern Box Turtle does what it has  done for millions of years, it closes its shell and waits for the danger to pass. No match for our modern, mechanized world,  as its habitat is destroyed, so are the turtles.

Herpetologists began studying the effects of relocating and preserving habitat for the Eastern Box Turtle around 1990. This reptile  is native only to the Eastern United States, and is difficult to relocate because of its homing instinct.  If relocated, the Eastern Box Turtle will try to find its way back to its hatching  place, and the resulting danger of death due to lack of food and road crossings claims many individualswhittington_Shelley_My Worm!_24 X 24_giclee_.jpg


Wild Box Turtles captured or rescued due to injury are required by state regulations to be released at the place of capture. If this habitat has been altered, survival is unlikely and many individuals face an early death. These turtles are prime candidates for sanctuary release, where they can live a natural secure life.

Captive Box Turtles can not be released into the wild where they may expose native populations to disease.  With an expected life span of more than 100 years, owners often tire of the responsibility and have very few options for re-homing their turtle. These pets  can be rehabilitated and live  in a secure sanctuary habitat with others of their kind

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23 thoughts on “Why does Virginia need a Box Turtle Sanctuary?

  1. Vivian Ward

    I have inherited Donald Zeiller’s 4 box turtles he has had in captivity for decades. I myself am very close to 70 and need to find them a new home. I also have some offspring not fully grown (about 20). One of the turtles is a turtle named Tuffy that my father had some correspondence with Sandy Barnett about quite a few years ago. Would love to hear from you in this regard. Sincerely,Vivian Ward

    1. Bob Grimes

      Hi Vivian, I was a member of NYTTS and have Don Zeiller’s book he published on box turtles and wood turtles. I have a sanctuary in Churchville. We live on 14 acres of oak/hickory forest with a wild population i have monitored for the last 6 years. My sanctuary has native plants and hosta’s and has two turtles in it

    2. Bob Grimes

      Hi Vivian, I am curious to know what ever happened to Don’s box turtles. I hoped they found a good home. Bob Grimes

  2. linda banner-bacin

    Hi, I found a box turtle in road, we have parks that run through the neighborhood, should I release in the woods?
    Thank you
    Linda Banner-bacin

    1. Shelley Whittington

      HI Linda, Thank You for picking him up out of the road, you quite likely saved his life. Box turtles have a home territory and if you have woods with in a 1/2 mile to where he was found, that would be the best place to put him. Unfortunately many people move them far away from their home territory thinking they are doing the best for the turtle, The turtles often try to get back to their home, which usually requires traveling unfamiliar land. If you think (looking at where he was found) that this turtle is lost and there is no woods nearby then the next best bet would be to take him to closest woods and try to find him a water source and set him there.

  3. Linda Straub

    im looking for a sanctuary for my box turtle, i got him as a gift from petco and love him and will keep him if thats whats best for him. i want him happy and free to live the life of a turtle and would travel to see that is what would happen. everyday i watch the poor guy work trying to get out.

    1. Shelley Whittington

      HI Linda, Yes Turtles are not easy pets, and thank you for rescuing him form petco. What state are you in? Most native species are not legal to sell in stores, but this changes state to state. I would love to help you improve your turtles habitat, if he is constantly trying to get out then there is a issue. Glass enclosures are difficult for turtles to understand and they do much better in a large rubber-maid tote or water trough.. Could you please send me a photo so we can get a positive ID or your guy and get him the proper humidity, temperature and light.
      I look forward to hearing back.

  4. don


    Hi it’s Linda’s husband, Don.
    We have a Central American Wood Turtle. He is enclosed in a 36″ X 18″ aquarium, we have a heat lamp and infrared lamp (used at night) and a UVB lamp on about 10-12 hours a day.
    Our concern is heat and humidity range, best substrate to use and how wet/moist should it be?
    We just want to ensure he is comfortable and in a healthy environment. Every time we ask at Petco we get conflicting information and is very confusing to us. Even internet info is not very consistent.
    Any help would be great. I can follow up with pics if you would like.

    1. Shelley Whittington

      HI Don,
      Central American Wood Turtles are beautiful and relatively easy to care for. Their needs are a lot like our Eastern Box Turtles.
      I also have one that was given to me from an old friend who had her for a while and became unable to care for her anymore. I am fortunate that I am able to keep her in an enclosed pen outside with a small filtered pond. She loves it out side in the summer and once the nights drop below 60 she has to come in.
      Glass Aquariums are hard on any turtles and as the Wood turtles are not really aquatic I would suggest you keep her in a large rubbermaid like tote or a waterland tub (http://www.waterlandtubs.com/. (which is what I use .. only issue with it is that I have to bale the water out on a regular basis to clean), basically, the bigger you can go the better…
      Your light and heat look good, although she would likely benefit from a larger habitat so she can choose sun or shade..
      Habitat should be directed to imitate as much as possible a natural environment.
      Your turtle needs to have an area to warm up and also an area to hide and cool down. A wood turtle is a bit more aquatic then a box turtle, but you will notice, does not have the webbed feet of a slider or a turtle that is in water most of the time, so no more then 1/2 of the habitat should be water. Most people use a combination of peat moss and sphagnum moss, I like to add clean soil (you can use potting soil, but make sure it is fertilizer free) in my mix of dirt and I also like to add plants. Usually I add native plants like dandelions, plantains and violets,,( which are safe to eat) I will also add leaves and bark (for hides)
      Misting should be done at least twice daily (automatic misters are available) and I would suggest you get an inexpensive humidity / thermometer (AcuRite 00613 Humidity Monitor with Indoor Thermometer, Digital Hygrometer and Humidity Gauge… $8.99)
      and a thermometer gun (Zoo Med ReptiTemp Digital Infrared Thermometer) The ultimate goal with humidity and heat is to think about a warm and humid summer day.. that is when these guys are happiest.

      a quick note about diet .

      many, many of these turtles are ones that are captured out of the wild and enjoy a variety of foods. These turtles are not herbivores and enjoy an omnivorous diet a lot like our box turtles If you are feeding her a store bought variety of pellets and she is eating them, that is great. You can, however supplement with some of these things and you will find you will have a turtle that will be more readily interactive with you. And the addition of live food will encourage her to forage and move about more

      proteins; earth worms, slugs, snails, insects and bugs including roaches, cicadas, grasshoppers, crickets, grubs, larvae, isopods, etc. They will also eat hard boiled eggs, shell and all, fish and small crayfish. You can also give them cooked chicken or fish.
      Fruits and vegetables; Various berries, grapes, melons, peaches, squashes, and dark leafy greens.

      I am more then happy to help in any way, please let me know if you have any further questions that I can entertain. Thank you for doing the best you can for your shelled friend, they are quite fascinating animals whose connection with our earth far exceeds most living things.
      I would love to see a photo.



  5. JD

    Hi Shelley, I took in two box turtles from a friend who found them by the side of the road upside down. I built them an 8 sq ft enclosure. One use to bully the other one. Now the bullied one has become the bully. But luckily I keep a metal barrier where they can still see each other but cannot hurt each other. I see them hang out sometimes. I keep feeling they would be better off in an outside setting with other turtles and more places where they can hibernate outside with someone that is an expert like you. I have thought about looking for a sanctuary where they’ll be safe but free. Is there anyway you could help? These two definitely do not like each other but I do not want from r them to be confined only two the basement door f my home. If I left them outside they would probably look fine for their original place and die trying to get there. I would hate for something bad to happen to them,

  6. Amber Irene

    Hi, where are you located if we were to fill out the surrender form and bring our rescue to you? I have a male eastern box turtle 6inches long we rescued 2 years ago. I want him to have a better life. Our neighbors left him in the snow when they decided they didn’t want to keep a wild animal anymore. We kept him and named him Dwight, from our favorite tv show. I give him canned cat food, strawberries, berries, spinach, that’s about it. He doesn’t eat much it’s hard to get him to eat. He doesn’t use his water bowl much either so I have to give him water soaks in the sink once a week to make sure he’s getting anything. I keep him indoors in a 4ft storage bin with the proper uv bulbs. But he just seems so out of spirits, I’d like to take him to you. We also have a baby now who likes to explore….

    1. Shelley Post author

      HI Amber, I apologize for not seeing this sooner. Do you still have the turtle? can you please send me photos if you do? Winter temperatures certainly slow them down as wild turtles are brumating (hibernating) so being out of sorts in the winter is usually normal.

  7. Rio

    Hi Shelley, I need some help to protect resident turtles that get caught in lawn mowers. Is there a way to get in touch? Thanks, Rio

  8. Monica

    Help! There is a wild box turtle that has been living in our back yard for years (10+) recently I noticed it is having eye problems. First one eye was closed now both are closed. I took photos to Rockwood Nature Center and spoke with them. They think it has a systemic infection of the ears. Turtle is not moving around much. What can I do? It hasn’t moved around much and is located close into our house. I think it came to us for help. So what can I do given it is not a pet?

    1. Shelley Whittington

      Please call your closest wildlife hospital , Southwest VA wildlife center, Blueridge wildlife Center, The Wildlife Center of VA or one of the many rehabbers that can be found on the Virginia Wildlife Resources website. This turtle needs to get licensed and permitted help

  9. Lindsey Belle

    Hello! I recently stumbled across your organization while researching box turtles in captivity. My 8 year old daughter and I are planning on installing a small pond enclosure this Spring and she dreams of a turtle living in it. I said we will absolutely not take one from the wild and she understands the need to protect our endangered wild species. The more a research purchasing one, it doesn’t feel right to me either since I know many of them were taken from their homes illegally and bred to sell. I would love to come for a visit so we can learn more about the work you’re doing and see where your turtles live. Thank you for all the work you’re doing, I am a fellow “stop traffic to help turtles across the road” individual. We are in Eastern Powhatan and we homeschool and would love to come for a visit!

    1. Shelley Whittington

      Hi Lindsey, it is great that you are teaching your daughter the importance of leaving wild things wild. It is important to note in this instance that current laws IN Virginia have made it illegal to posses a native eastern Box Turtle with out a permit, which you can look at on the Department of Wildlife Services website. There are indeed many turtles that were formerly pets that are in need of new homes, unfortunately, it is also illegal to adopt them out or rehome them in Virginia. I have done presentations for many home school groups, both at their homes and at the sanctuary, and would highly recommend we start there. Please e mail me at art4turtles@gmail.com and we can discuss a future plan. Thank you so much for reaching out. Shelley


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