Stacey Rogers has an eight-year-old son, Jackson, who has recently discovered wildlife. He recently asked his mother if he could bring a turtle home from a nearby pond, to keep as a pet.
"A bunch of neighborhood kids do it," Rogers said. "I can understand how exciting it is to find them. But I explained that even if an animal is hurt, you need to leave it alone because it will be food for something else. He said, ‘Yeah, that makes sense.’"
According to environmental specialists from the Reston Association (RA), Rogers gave her son the right information. Claudia Thompson-Deahl, environmental resource manager with RA, said no wildlife is allowed to be hunted or trapped, including reptiles and amphibians.
"People should think of Reston Association property as park land," Thompson-Deahl said. "Just as you don’t take wildlife out of a national park, you don’t take wildlife from Reston Association property."
Kevin Munroe, environmental resource specialist with RA, said wildlife in Reston is under "incredible stress." He said animals are constantly dying from encounters with lawnmowers, cars, cats and dogs.
"Kids want to be connected to nature," Munroe said. "If they catch a box turtle, that’s great that they’re excited. But parents should educate their children, tell them to put the turtle back where they found it, then take the children to the library to learn about turtles."
Munroe said Reston residents often bring him malnourished animals they have kept as pets.
"People get a turtle and feed it iceberg lettuce," Munroe said. "In the wild they have a varied diet. They eat centipedes and mushrooms. If you catch one, and bring it home, it is probably not going to make it."
He remembers one "sweet old lady" who brought in a turtle with a warped shell, deformed in captivity.
"I showed her a picture of how [the turtle] was supposed to look," Munroe said. "When she saw it she broke into tears."
IT IS ILLEGAL to sell native reptiles or amphibians, Thompson-Deahl said. This is so people cannot go out into the woods, gather a bunch of turtles, then turn around and sell them, she said.
"If you would really like a snake or turtle, go to a pet shop, and buy one that is captive-bred," Munroe said.
Thompson-Deahl added that people shouldn’t release a store-bought animal because they are not suited to live in the wild.
"If you get bored of an animal, don’t release it," Thompson-Deahl said. "Give it away or sell it back to the pet store."
Rogers said her son was "a little disappointed" when she told him not to bring a turtle home from a nearby pond "but he understood it was more important to leave things alone," she said.
Munroe said it is good for parents to foster an interest in wildlife, but not at the expense of the animals. He suggested that children use nets to fish critters out of local ponds, examine the critters, then release them. And, he said, children are not the only people who can be insensitive to Reston’s natural areas.
Munroe said one of the worst parts of his job is when someone calls up, says he or she has just cut a snake in half, and asks Munroe to identify it.
"I’ve had people bring dismembered snakes into my office," said Munroe.
For more information on RA wildlife policy, residents can pick up a brochure, "Guidelines for Care and Use of RA Natural Areas," available at RA’s main offices, at 1930 Isaac Newton Square. The brochures are also available at the RA Central Services Facility, 12250 Sunset Hills Road. Residents can also call RA, at 703-437-7658, for more information.