Pet Turtle Laws in Tennessee

By Jane Meggitt

The law governing the keeping of pet turtles in the state of Tennessee are pretty simple: they're not allowed. In 2012, the turtle ban was enacted, and permits were no longer issued for the selling of turtles in pet stores or for pet-keeping purposes.

No Sales or Barter

The Tennessee statute, 1200-14-01-.36, states, "It shall be unlawful for a person to sell, barter, exchange or otherwise transfer any turtle as a pet; or to import or cause to be imported any type of turtle in the State of Tennessee for such purposes.” The Volunteer State joins South Dakota and North Carolina in banning the sale of pet turtles. Turtles can still be sold in Tennessee for scientific research, for educational purposes or for food.

Salmonella Risk

The primary reason for the turtle ban is the fact the pet turtles, such as the red-eared slider, carry salmonella and other bacteria. Salmonella causes diarrhea, vomiting and fever, and people can die from the infection. Kids are especially vulnerable, since pet turtles are often purchased for them and they don't observe good hygiene practices. In 2006, a 45-year-old Tennessee woman suffered a severe, although not fatal, case of salmonellosis after exposure to her 7-year-old son's pet turtle.

Grandfathered Pet Turtles

If you already have a pet turtle purchased before the ban went through, you can keep your pet. Still, the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency recommends donating your turtle to one of the state's wildlife education centers.

Wild Turtles

Tennessee didn't allow wild turtles to be kept as pets long before the ban on small pet turtles. State law doesn't permit the keeping of any wild animals for pet purposes. If you find an injured wild turtle, call the regional TWRA nearest you. A representative will give you the contact information for licensed state wildlife rehabilitators, and you can arrange to turn the turtle over to one of these individuals. The rehabilitator will nurse the turtle back to health and eventually return the animal to the wild. If that's not possible, the turtle may find a home with a licensed special educator, who can use the turtle for teaching purposes.