By David Lucas for The Island Eye News
South Carolina’s reptile and amphibian enthusiasts need to be aware of new laws and regulations that now govern the collection, possession or transfer of native species in the state, including current collections of native turtles.
Changes to state statutes recently signed into law by Gov. Henry McMaster, as well as corresponding state regulations developed by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources wildlife biologists and effective Oct. 19, bring wide-ranging protections to many of the state’s native reptile and amphibian populations that were vulnerable to commercial exploitation and even black market trading. The new laws and regulations include penalties for the illegal sale, trade and, in some cases, possession of these animals.
They also include a provision to allow South Carolina residents with existing turtle collections that exceed the new limits to legally register them with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.
Residents of South Carolina who currently possess collections of native turtles in excess of the limits established by the new law have until Dec. 27 to file an “application for temporary exemption for possession of native turtles in excess of possession limits” with the SCDNR.
Without filing for the exemption for current collections, only 10 total native turtles can be legally possessed in a personal collection at any time. The total of 10 cannot include more than the limits for each species: Florida cooter, river cooter, chicken turtle, Eastern painted turtle, spiny softshell turtle, Florida softshell turtle, Eastern mud turtle, striped mud turtle, common musk turtle, yellow-bellied slider or common snapping turtle, up to five; and Eastern box turtle or diamondback terrapin, two each.
Turtle species listed as endangered or threatened in South Carolina may not be possessed at all without a permit, including gopher tortoises, bog turtles and spotted turtles.
In addition to the new limits on turtle collections, the new law and regulations also prohibit the sale, purchase, exchange, barter, trade, export, shipping or “re-homing” of any native reptile or amphibian species that isn’t specifically permitted. Specific exemptions in the regulations allow transfers to and from institutions such as zoos, research facilities or educational facilities with notification to SCDNR, as well as rehabilitation facilities permitted and registered by the Department. The sale or trade of some captive-bred snake species also is allowed under the regulations, as well as the sale of yellow-bellied and snapping turtles from certified aquaculture facilities and private ponds.
The new law makes it illegal to allow the release or escape of any non-native wildlife in South Carolina. Current information for all laws and regulations related to reptiles and amphibians, as well as permit and registration forms, can be found at dnr.sc.gov/wildlife/herps/regs.html.