Trade of Red-eared Sliders: When is it Legal and Illegal

Tanja is a qualified postgraduate scientist with a great passion for nature and how different ecosystems interact. Her education included coursework and practical experience to advance in biological sciences, farming, aquarium research and fisheries management. She has experience in constructing ponds, aqua- and hydroponics, productive gardens with a small worm farm and compost heap, and larger scale mariculture facility setups.

If you have ever seen a red-eared slider turtle, you should be wondering if it is legal to trade them. After all, they are so cute, and their shells are so colorful. It is easy to see why someone might want to trade one of these turtles.

However, before you attempt to trade a red-eared slider, it is crucial to know the law. In some states, it is illegal to sell these turtles. In other states, there are specific regulations that must be followed in order to trade them legally.

So, if you are interested in trading red-eared slider turtles or purchasing an individual(s), make sure to do thorough research first. Knowing the law is essential to avoid getting into trouble and guaranteeing sustainable, safe trading practices.

image1 ©John White

Why is the illegal trade of red-eared sliders a problem?

The illegal trade of red-eared slider turtles is a problem for several reasons. First, these turtles are classified as an endangered species, and their numbers are declining steadily due to habitat loss and other causes.

Second, the trade in these turtles is often conducted illegally, which means that the traders do not follow proper procedures for catching or measuring the turtles before selling them.

The legality of the trade of red-eared sliders varies among countries. In some cases, trading them is legal and allowed under certain circumstances. For example, it can be permitted to harvest them for food if they are not protected by law.

However, in most cases, trading them is illegal and can lead to criminal charges. This makes it difficult for scientists who study these turtles to gather data on their populations and track any changes over time due to poaching activity and unwanted red-eared sliders being put back in nature wrongfully.

What are the consequences of the illegal trade of red-eared sliders?

The illegal trade of red-eared sliders causes the turtles to be hunted more often and taken from their habitats. The turtles are poached for their flesh, which is considered a delicacy in some parts of the world. This leads to fewer red-eared sliders being found and increases the chances that they will become endangered or extinct.

As poachers or traders most likely do not follow proper procedures in catching and measuring red-eared slider individuals, flawed specimens can be sold to consumers. These consumers or client base may not be able to care for them as required and ultimately kill the animal.


Further, the illegal trade of red-eared sliders has negative consequences for the turtle species overall, both in terms of their health and the impact it has on wild populations. Red-eared sliders are highly invasive and can be quite aggressive, resulting in some individuals outcompeting other native species for food and space in a specific environment.

The high demand for red-eared sliders on the black market had driven up prices astronomically over recent years, making it harder for legitimate dealers to make a profit or even get as far as being the chosen seller.

How can you tell if a red-eared slider is being traded illegally?

One way to tell if a red-eared slider is being traded illegally is to look for signs that the turtle has been transported in an improper container or is potentially stressed.

Be on the lookout for any signs of neglect or mistreatment, such as bruises or broken limbs. It would help if you asked the seller about their sourcing and propagation methods – this could give clues as to whether or not they are following established guidelines.

Additionally, take care in observing the holding facility that the animals are kept in before they are purchased.

What should you do if you see someone illegally trading red-eared sliders?

First and foremost, REPORT the person to the appropriate legal authorities!

If you see someone illegally trading red-eared sliders, you should immediately report them to the appropriate authorities. It is so important to report such cases because trading these animals illegally can lead to them being killed or traded in an unsafe manner.

DO NOT buy from the potential illegal trader or poacher!

Inform the local law enforcement group and organizations like the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF). Remember, it is illegal to trade these reptiles without a license, and if you buy or attempt to buy one from the wrong person or trading company, you could be breaking the law.

Hopefully, calling attention to this problem will help dissuade others from engaging in illegal trades of red-eared sliders.

Educate others about the legal and illegal trade

When you step into the beautiful world of owning or selling exotic animals, you take on the responsibility of a general biosecurity obligation. This means that you take full responsibility for:

  • Knowing about the legal and illegal trading of red-eared sliders
  • What is required from you as the owner and potential trader or seller
  • Taking all reasonable and practical measures, minimizing any biosecurity risks that your red-eared slider(s) may pose
  • Buying or adopting from a reputable, registered animal facility or pet shop
  • Educating others on proper trading, selling, and adopting practices.

Each state has a local governmental body assigned to control invasive animals in the area. These governmental bodies also have a biosecurity and risk adoption plan that assists in reducing illegal trading and spreading of invasive species, improving the legal trade, and controlling the animals in the specific area.

Therefore, you can address any concerns you may have about either your red-eared sliders or other invasive species by contacting your local government, animal rescue facilities, or the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

Rescue the turtles

If you catch the person trading the sliders, you can confiscate the animals and take them to the nearest animal rescue center, wildlife center, or conservation organization.

Instead of purchasing your red-eared slider from a trader, you can go to an animal adoption center. You can also catch these turtles in the wild with a specific permit, but please only do so after consulting with local authorities. You might find that they need these turtles to be removed from a particular area because of the threat they pose to their aquatic counterparts.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE: Wild caught red-eared sliders are likely to be more aggressive than captive-bred individuals. They also have the potential to carry diseases or parasites that they picked up in nature or in toxic water bodies.

What should people know before they legally buy a red-eared slider?

It is illegal to trade or sell red-eared sliders without a permit from the United States National Fish and Wildlife Service. Some people believe that captive-bred alternatives to wild-caught red-eared sliders are better because they do not come from an environment where disease can be rampant.

However, there is no clear evidence that these alternatives are better. Many experts feel that they may actually be worse since they are raised in captivity and may not have the same instinctual behaviors as their wild counterparts.

Here is a list of things to look out for before purchasing a red-eared slider legally:

  • Attitude and care expressed by the trader, seller, or breeder
  • Consider the holding facility
  • How much the red eared slider cost
  • Lawful size of the red-eared slider
  • Promising reviews and feedback
  • Registered and certified paperwork
  • Reputability
  • Selling or trading location
  • The condition in which the red-eared slider is.

To remember

If you see someone illegally trading red-eared sliders, please report it to the authorities. You can also help by buying captive-bred alternatives to wild-caught red-eared sliders and by educating yourself and others about the needs of these turtles before they are purchased.

When it does not feel right, chances are that you are dealing with an unlawful situation and need to report it soonest. Always do your research thoroughly and opt for adopting red-eared sliders as a first choice.

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