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My Turtle Doesn't Seem To Like Me

Every so often I get an email from a person indicating that their
turtle is afraid of them or doesn't like them. 

The answer is: Probably that's true.

Let me elaborate: A turtle, after often convoluted travels, is scared,
confused, upset, traumatized, you name it. Only one thing occupies
its mind: To get away to safety! For a water turtle, safety is in the water,
preferably underneath some logs or plants. For a box turtle, safety is
buried deep into a pile of leaf litter. The turtle stays in its safe
place until it feels comfortable to come out again. This can take
quite some time. In addition, the turtle will most likely forsake any
food, prefering to stay in hiding.

In other words: Your new turtle is acting perfectly normal.

What can you do? 
First and foremost, leave your turtle alone for about a week. Make sure
the enclosure is clean, warm, and has some places to hide. Put the turtle
in, and ignore it for a week or so. Turtles are curious, and after a while,
your turtle will probably come out--when you are not looking.
Just leave a little food in the enclosure. 
If you ever see the turtle, stop, look at it, talk to it. Over time, the
turtle will get used to your presence. Make sure the turtle sees you
put food in the enclosure, so s/he starts to associate you with food (which
is a good thing in the turtle's view). 
As time goes by, your turtle will come out more frequently, won't scramble
away when you appear in his/her field of view, will learn that good things
(food) originate from you. He/she might start to come out when s/he hears
or sees you, or when you call or clap. The turtle might allow you to pet and
hold him/her, and some turtles enjoy this tremendously once they get used
to it. 

How long this will take? 
It varies. I've had turtles that came out, basked, and ate within a few 
days. Or within a few weeks. I have one turtle in my pond who I've had
for several months now, and the only way I get to see her is by sneaking
up on her. Some turtle species are shy, others are bold. Some turtles
are shy, some are bold. I had a cuora who hardly ate for the first year,
and then he became tame as a dog and followed me around and came when
I called. I have a baby cuora that I've had for a couple of months. Now I
actually see him sometimes, and if I put him in front of food, he doesn't
bolt anymore but will eat. He will come out to talk to my toddler-son, though.
I have snakes that took a few days to get accustomed to their new surroundings,
and I have a snake that is still skittish after several months.
I have a pair of geckos. One of them is as shy as on the first day I got
her almost two years ago; the other one will actually let me pet him 
and he seems to like it (he'll also bit if he is angry). 

So, be patient. Don't expect anything. Just live with your turtle (or
other reptile) and allow yourself to be fascinated and surprised.

If your turtle does not eat for more than the first couple of weeks, 
or if you get the impression the animal is sluggish or not acting
like a properly scared animal, take the turtle to a veterinarian for
a checkup. Parasites are common on newly acquired turtles, and quite
a few have some kind of infection going on that requires treatment
with antibiotics. (Refer to other pages for more.)

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