Turtles in temple ponds in Thailand: species, abundance, and health issues.
The traditional practice of releasing turtles into temple ponds in Thailand, believed to benefit releasers, likely affects turtles' welfare and impacts wild populations. We examined the species, abundance, and health of turtles in six temple ponds. Seven native turtle species and two exotic species were recorded. Most common were the yellow-headed temple turtle (Heosemys annandalii), a legally protected species, and the exotic red-eared slider (Trachemys scripta elegans). Almost all examined turtles showed signs of illness, the most common being shell lesions and excessive algal growth on shells. Poor sanitation and food quality, and limited space to bask, observed in all ponds, contributed to turtles' poor health. We recommend using better-managed temple ponds as temporary rehabilitation centers and returning healthy native turtles to natural areas, while encouraging people to provide funds to support the turtles and discouraging the release of new turtles.