'Otherworldly' 65-Pound Alligator Snapping Turtle Found Roaming Residential Neighborhood in Virginia

Animal protection police in Fairfax County, Virginia recently responded to a call about a 65 pound snapping turtle wandering around a local neighborhood.

The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF) wrote that the otherworldly alligator snapping turtle was found in a near a local pond in a Facebook post. Fairfax County police said the turtle was found on May 28. While common snapping turtles are native to Virginia and Fairfax County, where the turtle was found, this species is commonly found in river drainages in the Gulf of Mexico, Georgia, the Florida panhandle, and eastern Texas.

Recently, our Animal Protection Police received a call about a large turtle in a residential area of Alexandria. Much to their surprise, it was a 65 lb alligator snapping turtle! Learn more at: https://t.co/RtHz4aJ5qP #FCPD pic.twitter.com/qgYFRmUyMS

— Fairfax County Police (@FairfaxCountyPD) June 15, 2020

The Fairfax County Police Department wrote in a tweet that local animal protection police were called to pick up the massive turtle.

J.D. Kleopfer, state herpetologist with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, told Newsweek that the turtle was probably a pet illegally released into the wild after the owner grew tired of it. "Obviously, this was somebody's pet that they probably had for a long time, and they probably just got tired of it, moved, outgrew whatever housing it had, or whatever reason, and then, like most people do with their pet turtles, they take them down to the local pond or park and illegally dump them," Kleopfer told Newsweek. "This has become a chronic problem throughout many urban areas with pet turtles. People have them for a certain amount of time, and then they get bored with them, and they just dump them.

The turtle was only a "minimal" threat to humans and likely would have died either by freezing or starvation had it not been picked up by local animal control. The DGILF said that this was likely a young turtle, because this species of alligator snapping turtle can grow to over 200 pounds.

The turtle has since been named Lord Fairfax and has found a new, permanent home at the Virginia Zoo in Norfolk and will be part of a new exhibit. While Lord Fairfax found a new home, most animals aren't as fortunate. "Unfortunately, quite often these animals have to be euthanized, because of whatever reason: we just can't find a home for them or they're an extremely abundant turtle," Kleopfer said. "Red-eared sliders are nearly impossible to find homes for them. So, usually they end up getting euthanized, because we just don't have the facilities or the resources to care for them."

The DGILF wrote that, even though turtles have been popular pets for a longtime, changing regulations sometimes cause owners to release them into the wild. The pointed to the red-eared slider as an example of a turtle that was once a popular pet, but an FDA ruling in 1975 banned the keeping of turtles with a 4-inch or less shell-length, because children were getting salmonella poisoning. "Another unfortunate consequence of the pet trade is the releasing of turtles into the wild by well-meaning pet owners," DGILF wrote in the Facebook post about the turtle.

"Dumping of turtles is not only irresponsible of the individual who owned the turtle, it's also inhumane to the turtle itself, because quite often, these turtles probably just die a very slow death," Kleopfer said.

While they're not necessarily native to Virginia, red-eared sliders have now established a population in Virginia and in many places outside of their lower Mississippi River Valley point of origin.

"Before you purchase a pet, regardless if it's a dog, cat, turtle, bird, fish or whatever it is, do your homework. Find out what it is this animal requires for its husbandry, how long it lives, how big it grows, and realize that pets are a permanent lifetime commitment. They're not just a temporary fad until you get bored with them or until your kids get bored with them and you decide to go dump your problem onto somebody else," Kleopfer said.

Alligator Snapping Turtle
An Alligator Snapping Turtle that was intercepted when an attempt was made to smuggle it from the US is displayed during an Operation Jungle Book media event at the US Fish and Wildlife Service in Torrance, California on October 20, 2017. The turtle found in Virginia was much bigger than this. MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty