Hundreds of turtles go missing in North Georgia - | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Hundreds of turtles go missing in North Georgia

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SUMMERVILLE, GA (WRCB) -- David Driver's business minds its own business. "Chill-axin' the July heat and humidity away in a three-quarter-acre clay pond, at his farm just outside Summerville, Georgia.

We've got Common Snapper, Spiny Softshell, Eastern Paint," he says. "Yellow-bellied slider and about 5 different musks."

All are breeds of turtle. Some, he sells to pet stores.  But most go to farmers and restaurateurs in China, who raise them to serve as delicacies.

Driver's should be so plentiful that they're bumping into one another.

But his turtle total has slowly, steadily, dropped. "We  probably don't have but about 600 now," he says.

In one pond.

At his old place, He claims that more than 2,000 called four ponds home this Spring. Then he got evicted.

His landlord, Gary McConnell, won't say why. But the month-and-a-half  move to the new place 'opened' some opportunities.

"I think it was just vandals," he says.  "There was some tin torn down and we lost about 1600 of 'em."

A long, slow walk to freedom?

"They're constantly walking," he says. "It probably didn't take em but a few hours to get out."

They've made the most of the head start. And the confusion and distractions that moves create. Then, he realized the tailgate to his pickup truck was missing.

That complicated matters.

"These could be metal thieves," Chattooga County Sheriff's investigator Matt Hayes tells Channel 3. "We'll be checking the scrap yards. We've had a bunch of copper thefts here lately."

Hayes believes the tailgate thief, or thieves, may have had no idea that Driver's ponds held 'livestock.'

Driver is doubtful. "I don't know whether anybody's stealing them," he says.

"There's been a lot of em reported on the roads, and neighbors have called me to come get 'em. "They're not taking the tin (fencing), just moving it. I just think it's people turning em loose."

'Meat' turtles, particularly baby snappers, went for $10-14 each last season," Driver says.

"They lay lots of eggs, but we may have lost a whole year of that," he says. "A lot of this happened during that season. And if they get spooked, they either don't lay or lay 'em in a place where we can't get them."

The U.S. Department of Agriculture and Georgia's Department of Natural Resources regulate who can raise 'game turtles,' how they're to be sold, and how many."

"You can't sell without permits," Driver says.  "Anybody buying would know something's not right."

Driver tells Channel 3 he expects to meet with a DNR investigator Friday.

"I called our law enforcement office from the region, and they haven't received any calls about the turtles, " DNR Communications Specialist David Allen writes via email. "So, unfortunately I don't have any additional information on the incident right now."

Driver is totalling his losses. "Several thousand dollars. I don't know. I'd say $30-40,000 anyway."

With no insurance to cover it.

He's added security.  Two Great Pyrenees dogs stand watch to warn of trespassers. But building back could come at a turtle's pace.

"If this was a joke,' he says, it was a really bad joke."

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