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European pond turtles (Emys orbicularis) are the only species of freshwater turtles in Serbia. It inhabits freshwater environments with slowly-flowing and standing waters. These turtles are active during warm part of the year, but hibernate from October to May. After hibernation they engage in reproductive activities and egg laying, on one or two occasions. They deposit eggs in the loose soil near the water body they inhabit. They feed on sick and dead fish, aquatic invertebrates and, in smaller amounts, on plant matter.

Due to rapid decline of populations of the European pond turtle, it are protected, both at international and national levels. In Serbia the European pond turtles are STRICTLY PROTECTED. This means that it is forbidden (especialy during reproductive period, nesting and hybernation) to:

-          hurt,

-          disperse,

-          persecute,

-          capture,

-          keep/breed,

-          harass individuals.

Numerous anthropogenic factors negatively affect European pond turtles. Some of them are:

-          expansion of agricultural areas at the expense of habitats suitable for turtles (e.g. draining and ploughing of wetlands)

-          runoff of excessive agricultural chemicals into aquatic habitats

-          inadequate disposal of solid and chemical wastes (dumping of construction debris and similar into ponds, wastewater spills into water basins and their surroundings)

-          accidental drowning of turtles in fishing nets, or deliberate killing of individuals by fishermen

-          vehicle collisions, especially during seasonal migrations

-          “liberating” of exotic turtles (e.g. red sliders Trachemys scripta) into the habitats of European pond turtle.

For a long time, the North American red-eared sliders were very popular pet animals worldwide, and in Serbia as well. In Serbia they were commonly sold as 3 to 5 cm long yearlings. The traders often claimed that turtles will remain small. But, under favourable conditions these turtles grow fast, and after several years they reach lengths of over 25 cm! The turtles this big need more living space, so their owners often “release” them in nature or in nearby parks, hoping their pets will do better in the wild. Unfortunately, this is a HUGE MISTAKE! Red-eared sliders which manage to survive this “liberation” cause great damage to natural habitats.

When they are abundant, naturally aggressive red-eared sliders jeopardize the autochthonous European pond turtle. These two species compete for food and for places for basking and nesting. One of the features which make the red-eared sliders so successful in invading new territories is their shorter hibernation period: they emerge earlier and start feeding and reproducing before the European turtles do. In addition, allochthonous turtles can transmit numerous parasites and diseases to autochthonous animals, whose immune systems cannot fight exotic diseases.

There is a growing body of evidence that red-eared sliders efficiently reproduce across Europe and in Serbia. In numerous places scientists have proven that this invasive species jeopardizes autochthonous turtles. Red-eared sliders are listed among the 100 worst invasive species IN THE WORLD! Since 2009, the import of red-eared sliders into Serbia is forbidden by law; nevertheless, the problem of already present individuals remains. Please, do not buy exotic sliders for pets. It is possible that autochthonous pond turtles are also offered for sale: do not buy them, it is illegal! If you already have them, do not release red-eared sliders or other exotic pets in natural habitats. If you own a red slider turtle, and can't or don't want to take care of it anymore, take it to the nearest ZOO, or contact us to help you find a new home for it. DO NOT RELEASE IT IN NATURE.

Although European pond turtles are easily recognized, data on their distribution in Serbia are not complete. Our goal is to explore where they live in Serbia and what affects them and their habitats. Also, we want to map where the exotic sliders were released into nature. If you want to take part and help us map turtles in Serbia, you can send us photographs and coordinates when you spot any of the species, on the e-mail address:

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The research of distribution and conservation of the European pond turtle in Serbia is financially supported by the Rufford Small Grants Foundation. Additional information about our investigation plans and about the achievements of the project can be found on the page devoted to the Project, on the Rufford Foundation web site. 

 

© Aleksandar Simovic