The two diamondback terrapins confiscated in Buffalo, N.Y. are back in their rightful home of Ocean City, Md. It's illegal to remove a terp from nature in Maryland. Photo: Sandi Smith, Maryland Coastal Bays Program

Diamondback Terrapins, Stolen by Tourists, Returned to Ocean City

There’s a happy ending to a disheartening wildlife incident in Ocean City, Md.

Earlier this summer, visitors from Buffalo, N.Y. apparently collected two diamondback terrapins in Ocean City and brought them back to Buffalo. The turtles were confiscated by the SPCA in Erie County, N.Y. New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation reached out to Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to make them aware of the turtles.

The Maryland Coastal Bays Program will receive the turtles this week to be released back to their natural habitat.

It is illegal to take any Northern map turtle, bog turtle, spiny softshell, wood turtle, spotted turtle, diamondback terrapin, or sea turtle in Maryland. It’s also illegal to sell, barter or trade a wild-caught turtle.

Maryland Coastal Bays Program’s Sandi Smith says, “There is nothing humane in the capture of a wild turtle and confining it as a domestic pet. The maintenance and dietary needs are far more labor intensive for a humane existence. Depending on the period of the collection of a wild turtle caught and kept in captivity, most surrendered are no longer eligible for release back into the wild.”

Worse, Smith says with few resources available to rehome a wild animal, such cases often end in the animal being euthanized.

The diamondback terrapins carries cultural significance in Maryland as the mascot of the University of Maryland. It is considered a near-threatened species, facing obstacles that include loss of habitat due to shorefront development, getting caught in crab pots, and illegal poaching due to a market for turtle meat in Asia.

The vacationers who took the turtles were given a written warning.

The Maryland Coastal Bays Program reminds everyone not to take any wildlife from its habitat. If you come upon a an animal you believe is injured, seek advice from a local rehab group or animal control to determine if they are truly injured. And if you witness what you believe is suspicious activity involving the collection of wildlife, call DNR at 410-260-8888.

-Meg Walburn Viviano