HARRISON, Ark. - The Boone County licensed turtle rehabilitators said after the turtle races in Harrison, they would have to collect dozens of turtles, clean them, treat them, and release them. And some of them don't survive.
"We end up with a lot of the victims," said Alan Gregory, a turtle rehabilitator. He and his wife Terri run the Boone County Turtle Rescue in Harrison.
Turtle races in Harrison started in the 80s. Multiple turtles are put in the center of a circle on the downtown square.
"The turtle that gets to the edge of the ring first is the winner," Gregory said.
Arvest Bank took over the races last year after they acquired Bear State Bank. Participants find their own turtles in the wild to race.
"The turtles get painted. They get bling. Holes drilled in their shells," the turtle rehabilitator said.
The paint can make them vulnerable to predators and lead to permanent damage, like shell rot.
The turtle rehabilitators said many people took the turtles away from their homes and fed them lettuce, which is actually not a turtle favorite, and they'd be hungry.
"They're more carnivores than anybody knows. They need to have worms, termites, slugs," Gregory said.
Not to mention the reptiles carry diseases, which they could spread to other turtles, and to people.
Then sometimes when the race was over:
"They're not going to keep it for a pet, and so they abandon them," Gregory said.
And the Gregorys would help the turtles they could, but some of them could not be saved.
The rehabilitators said they did not speak with Arvest, but others in the community did.
In a statement Arvest says: When Arvest took over our community’s long-standing turtle races last year, we worked to provide increased awareness, before and after the races, of the proper handling, care and release of the turtles.
Despite those efforts, several members of our community remain concerned about the welfare of the turtles as a result of the races. The health and well-being of our local wildlife is important, so we discontinued this event and make no plans to host this type of event in the future.
State Rep. Keith Slape said he's sad the tradition isn't going to continue in Harrison, but he understands the need to protect the wildlife.
And the Gregorys believe it was the right call.
"We really have a big impact on them when we take them out of their home and use them for just entertainment purposes and then discard them," Gregory said.
If you do find an injured turtle, the Gregorys ask that you bring it to the Boone County Turtle Rescue. The number is (870) 741-9357.