It’s like a real-life version of the movie “Chicken Run,” only without Mel Gibson and much, much slower. Near Summerville, Georgia, there is a turtle farm. Thousands of adult turtles, all native species to the southern United States, live in ponds on the property. Thanks to vandals or scrap metal thieves, breaks in the fence have allowed the turtles to wander off the property, taking up residence in surrounding waterways. The operation is something like a hatchery, and about 1,600 of the 2,200 turtles that form its breeding stock have run away.
The owner of this particular farm, one of only three in Georgia, started out in pest control and is descended from trappers. He started out trapping turtles for food, then learned how to farm them. The goal is to catch adult turtles, then confine them to the property. They live presumably happy turtle lives, reproducing and laying eggs on land surrounding their ponds. The farmer’s family then gathers up the eggs and hatches them indoors. Some of the hatchlings are shipped to China and raised as food; others go to pet distributors in the United States.
The farm’s owner is currently moving his operation to a new property, and is happy to pick up nuisance turtles for free and give them a new home. But the global turtle market is weak. A baby snapping turtle sold for about $14 a year ago, but fetches only $7 today.