Alberta Fish and Wildlife officers are seeking two small turtles, which they say were sold illegally by someone in Gibbons, Alta., last December.
Map turtles are on Alberta’s controlled animals list, making them illegal to sell or have as pets.
In a statement posted Friday afternoon on Facebook, Fish and Wildlife said officers believe the turtles, incorrectly listed as sawback turtles in an ad, were purchased by a woman from Fort McMurray, along with a 10-gallon tank, heat and UV lamps, turtle pellets and calcium for $250.
“Map turtles are known as carriers of salmonellosis and pose a potential public health hazard,” said Fish and Wildlife officer Dana Brand.
Even though they are illegal in Alberta, map turtles are popular pets in other provinces because of their small size, according to David Law, who runs the Alberta Turtle and Tortoise Society.
“They are huge in Ontario and huge in the pet trade, too,” Law said. “They don’t get as big as other turtles.”
Females are only about 20 centimetres long, while males are even smaller, about 10 centimetres, he said.
Law questioned just how dangerous the turtles are in transmitting disease.
“You have a better chance of getting salmonella from the chicken you buy at the grocery store than you do dealing with turtles,” he said. “It is just like handling chicken or with any pet, you wash your hands.”
Law, who currently has 23 reptiles in his care, said he has never contracted salmonella in the seven years since he started taking in rescued reptiles, mainly pets the owners no longer want.
While the northern map turtle, native to southern Ontario and Quebec, is considered an at-risk species, the turtles Fish and Wildlife are looking for appear to be false map turtles, Law said. False map turtles are not considered at risk.
Fish and Wildlife will not press charges if the turtles are turned over, Brand said.
“No charges will be laid if the turtles are surrendered. We believe the woman who purchased the species did so thinking they were a species legal to posses in Alberta.”
Ignorance about the species is likely, Law said. He often hears from people with a map turtle, who don’t know they have an illegal animal, he said.
Should the turtles be found, Fish and Wildlife intends to find them a home in an Alberta zoo, where they are legal.
Gibbons is about 35 kilometres northeast of Edmonton.