It would have raised one of US President Donald Trump’s bushy eyebrows if the tables were turned, but an alien visitor from America got a friendly reception when it trundled into a Port Elizabeth yard at the weekend.
When animal control specialist Arnold Slabbert of Wildline was called to the house, he thought the little turtle was of the local variety and had just wandered away from the water it called home.
But he “nearly fainted” hours later when he learnt its true origin.
“It turned out to be a red-eared terrapin – and they only occur in certain parts of the United States,” Slabbert said.
“As far as we know, this is the first one ever found roaming around freely in the Eastern Cape.”
He found the foreign freshwater turtle when a home owner in Charlo called him about a “strange-looking tortoise” in his backyard.
However, on his arrival at the house, Slabbert knew immediately it was a turtle, due to its flatter shell.
“It was covered in mud, and we get certain species of terrapin in our region, so at first I thought nothing of it,” he said.
“I took it from the property and it looked in pretty good shape.
“I would have released it immediately again if I knew of any suitable freshwater spots nearby but had to take it home until I found the right place.
“Luckily, I still had it with me the next day, because I nearly passed out when I realised what I had actually found.”
The next day most of the mud had come off, and he was able to see the markings across the turtle’s face and body more clearly.
It was then that he noticed the tell-tale red line running across its head and neck.
Slabbert said it was unclear how the turtle ended up in Port Elizabeth, but he believed it was more than likely brought into the country as a pet and, when the owner did not know how to care for it, it was released into the wild. “This happens quite often. “People get foreign animals as pets because they are cute when they are young.
“But they soon realise that the animals grow up to be something different, or they do not know how to raise them.
“By releasing them, they actually cause that animal – and the local environment – more harm than they realise.” Red-eared terrapins, also known as red-eared sliders, grow about as big as a dinner plate and live near freshwater sources.
As adolescents, they are carnivorous, living predominantly on insects and other small animals.
When they reach adulthood, they develop into omnivores and eat meat as well as vegetation.
They occur abundantly around the Mississippi river region, but appear in various other parts of the US.
They are listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature among the top 100 most invasive species in the world.
Slabbert said this one probably survived away from water by burying itself in mud after the recent rain in Port Elizabeth.
Once it became too dry, it dug itself out and went looking for more water.
“Unfortunately, they pose a real threat to indigenous species,” he said.
“They breed fairly easily and compete with local species for food. If they are not removed, they could drive other species away over time.
“They have also been known to carry certain pests and illnesses that could be hazardous to humans.”
Slabbert said the turtle would be taken to a suitable facility where it posed no threat to the environment.