Pets' corner: Teenage Mutant Ninja Terrapins

Your questions answered by Chamois Rose-Wood

I would love to have terrapins as pets, but I hear lots of people dump them. Are they that difficult to keep?, James Ross, London

When people talk about getting a terrapin I always think of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles from the Eighties. The cartoon started a craze for keeping terrapins and turtles, and only now are we realising the damage they cause to wildlife. Owners are taken by surprise when they grow and don't realise how much care that they need, so they usually end up dumping them in ponds and waterways. Terrapins really are pets for enthusiasts. They start off the size of a 50p piece and can grow up to the size of a dinner plate. They are a long-term investment and can live up to 30 years. The initial cost is high because they need a heated aquarium and a UV light that needs to be kept on most of the day. The issue of people releasing them has reached crisis point in Hampstead Heath in north London. In the spring of this year, the Heath rangers set about gathering up the unwanted terrapins - there are an estimated 150 of the little creatures living in the ponds. Normally they eat fish, newts, toads, frogspawn and dragonfly larvae, but they have moved into the ponds set aside as a bird sanctuary, and have devoured coots, moorhens and ducks, and their eggs. Let's hope that we learn from the craze of terrapins and don't make the same mistake with the new movie Ratatouille since we certainly don't really need any more rats in London!

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