The turtle was marked for sacrifice — but it was rescued and nursed and now it’s free

On Thursday, the Pelican Harbor Seabird Station released a healthy peninsula cooter after it was discovered chained to another turtle in late November.
On Thursday, the Pelican Harbor Seabird Station released a healthy peninsula cooter after it was discovered chained to another turtle in late November. Pelican Harbor Seabird Station

Good news, Miami. At least one turtle snared in what was likely a ceremonial religious sacrifice is swimming free again.

In late November, the turtle was one of two freshwater turtles found chained together and swimming off Miami Beach. The turtles were linked to a bag containing spices and two rag dolls. They were found, according to a WPLG report, around the time that goats and chickens were discovered slaughtered on the feast day of a Santería deity.

The two freshwater turtles were brought to Pelican Harbor Seabird Station suffering from infections, respiratory distress and shell rot, where holes had been drilled in their carapaces, said station spokeswoman Sarah Curry.

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A juvenile peninsula cooter and red-eared slider were found chained together in late November and brought to the Pelican Harbor Seabird Station where they were nursed back to health. Pelican Harbor Seabird Station

One of the turtles was a juvenile male peninsula cooter, a native species that is protected in Florida. The other was a red-eared slider, a non-native species that since 2007 has required a permit to own. Both were given shots of antibiotics, medicated baths and food.

On Thursday, the cooter was released into a lake at Amelia Earhart Park near Hialeah. The red-eared slider is still being nursed back to health, but will likely be released into a sanctuary for non-native animals managed by Animal Recovery Mission, Curry said.

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The turtles were chained to a bag containing two red rag dolls, two photographs and cinnamon sticks. Pelican Harbor Seabird Station

Animal sacrifices in South Florida are hardly unusual. A landmark 1993 U.S. Supreme Court ruling protects them for Santería followers. But the ceremonies usually involve the slaughter of goats and chickens as part of rituals rooted in the faith. Turtle sacrifices are more rare, but not unheard of. Turtle sacrifices were also once a common practice at Hindu ceremonies in Bali, but are now outlawed.

“It’s a pretty sad situation,” Curry said. “We didn’t get any religious ceremony cases last year, but our rehab manager said we have in the past.”

Pelican Harbor specializes in rescuing native birds and reptiles and last year took in 1,447 sick animals, with most injuries linked to humans, including hitting windows, eating poison or getting tangled in fishing line.

“It’s always difficult when we receive patients that are admitted as a result of animal cruelty,” Chris Boykin, executive director, said in a statement. “South Florida’s native birds and wildlife are to be revered and respected, not shot or chained together.”

Jenny Staletovich is a Florida native who covers the environment and hurricanes for the Miami Herald. She previously worked for the Palm Beach Post and graduated from Smith College.