In late November, a woman showed up at the Pelican Harbor Seabird Station with a bizarre find: two freshwater turtles that had been chained together. Attached to the chain was a bag packed with a cinnamon stick, two red voodoo dolls, and two photos of a couple.
"We don't often get things that come in looking like this," says Sarah Curry, education and outreach coordinator for the Miami nonprofit. "We sometimes get birds that come in that are shot with BB guns or bows and arrows, stuff like that."
The turtles, which were discovered frantically trying to swim in opposite directions in the ocean off Miami Beach, had holes drilled into the edge of their shells. They had shell rot and respiratory infections. The seabird station calls it "an alarming case of animal cruelty" — one they believe was part of a religious ceremony.
After two months of treatment that included daily antibiotics and shell cleanings, one of the turtles — a juvenile male peninsula cooter — was released today at a freshwater lake in Amelia Earhart Park in Hialeah. Staff recorded video of the little guy crawling into the water and then quickly swimming away.
The other turtle, a red-eared slider, is still being treated for pneumonia, Curry says. It'll likely be released at the Animal Rescue Mission's private sanctuary. The seabird station reported the incident to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, where a spokesman did not immediately respond to New Times' request for comment.
Animal sacrifices are nothing new in Florida, where they are protected if certain rules are followed. Over the past few years, Miamians have come across trails of decapitated animals and pots filled with animal heads and money.
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Even chained turtles have been found here before. In 2016, a man rescued a pair of them from the Miami River in a video that went viral. "This is like the craziest thing I've ever seen in my life," said the friend who filmed it.
And last summer, a Central Florida TV station reported that a Kissimmee man earned the nickname "Turtle Boy" after discovering two turtles stuck together.
Most of the 1,447 animals the Pelican Harbor Seabird Station took in last year were injured indirectly by humans. The nonprofit says it recently received an osprey, a vulture, and two hawks with gunshot injuries.
“It’s always difficult when we receive patients that are admitted as a result of animal cruelty," the station's executive director, Chris Boykin, says in a statement. "South Florida’s native birds and wildlife are to be revered and respected, not shot or chained together.”