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Architecture pond turtles were not murdered, says Facilities Services


Students who witnessed a maintenance worker combing the architecture pond for turtles were concerned they were not meeting a happy fate. | McKenzie Misiaszek/The Cougar

Quinn Edgecombe has had lunch at the koi pond since her freshman year. As a senior, she continued to enjoy the pond until she came into work one day and saw a turtle in a box at the front desk. The turtle had been removed from the pond by a maintenance worker for reasons unknown to her and her coworkers.

The pond has always had turtles residing in it, cohabitating with the fish. Recently, there has been an increase in the turtle population. With that increase came a plummet in the koi fish population, which prompted the removal of the reptiles.

“For a long time, (Facilities Services) didn’t tell me who it was and I was like, ‘Okay you need to tell me where are these turtles going because if you’re just taking them out and then killing them, because they wouldn’t tell me a straight answer, that’s what I’m going to assume because you’re not telling me where you’re taking them,'” said Edgecombe.

After walking to the College of Architecture and Design, Edgecombe asked the front desk for a number she could contact to talk to someone about the removal of the turtles. After receiving the number for Facilities Services, she returned to the Design Exploration Center, the small building next to the koi pond, and took a picture of the turtle at the front desk and put it on Snapchat.

“I took a video and he looked really angry, but I would be too if I was being ripped apart from my family and my home,” Edgecombe said. “I sent it to everyone I knew that was in my Snapchat, and I was like ‘Call Craig (Whitfield)’ and I put his number on my Snapchat.”

After she received several messages asking what happened, she told her friends to find out for themselves by calling him. She said quite a few called him and left messages.

The turtles were not murdered. They were moved to Brays Bayou, which is located on the opposite side of campus and is a natural environment for turtles of all species. The koi pond is not big enough to support a large turtle population and would lead to negative outcomes for the wildlife, said Facility Manager Craig Whitfield in an email Edgecombe received Thursday.

”They would also start eating the koi fish once the little fishes have been eaten by them,” Whitfield said. “They would ultimately die of starvation.”

The University is not sure how the new turtles got to the pond or where they came from, but they know it happened recently and is detrimental to the native animals in the pond. Executive Director for Facilities Services Jeffrey Benjamin suspects the turtles were once students’ pets released into the pond or they migrated from the area near the pond now under construction.

“Over the last couple of weeks, there’s been kind of an explosion in the turtle population unexpectedly,” Benjamin said. “On average we’ve had about four turtles in there, and the next thing you know my maintenance guys are telling me we’ve got 20 turtles in the koi pond and they’re decimating our koi population.”

In the past, the koi fish were large enough to avoid much pestering by turtles. The majority of the fish were over a foot long. This is not the case anymore. In December 2017, someone vandalized the pumps connected to the pond, causing it to drain overnight and the koi to die.

Since then, the University has restocked the pond with small koi fish that have been eaten by the newly introduced turtles, Benjamin said.

“The original turtles that were there were easy to identify because they’ve been there for years,” Benjamin said.

The native pond turtles, red-eared sliders, eat fish and bugs. Their beaks are not usually sharp enough to harm the large koi fish, and when there were only four of them they rarely had a reason to. The majority of the new turtles, which are snapping turtles and still native to the area, were the ones removed and primarily injuring koi fish, Benjamin said.

The snapping turtle at the front desk was adopted by some turtle-loving architecture students who know how to care for the reptiles, and he now has a safe home.

“There was actually a girl who was in the College of Architecture who loves turtles and so does her brother, and they actually took him home and now they’re caring for him,” Edgecombe said.

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