In an often retold fable, a primitive philosopher asserts that the world sits atop a giant turtle. Asked what the turtle is standing on, he replies: another turtle. And that turtle? "Why," the philosopher says, "it's turtles all the way down!"
Camden's city government appears to be laboring under a similarly reptilian illogic. In this most distressed of New Jersey's cities - only recently released from an unprecedented experiment in state receivership - some of the municipal workforce has been spending its time on what can only be described as a full-blown turtle hunt.
Almost as if the city had run out of real problems, its animal control officers have been chasing illicit turtles all over town, according to the Courier-Post. And, as in another fable, team turtle has been the unexpected winner of the race.
Acting animal control supervisor Christian McGarry told the paper that he and his two officers have stormed four different locations in search of alleged turtle traders. "Every time they get word we're coming," he said, "they close up shop and move."
All Camden's critter cops have to show for their efforts are a few of the impossibly cute, tablespoon-size creatures, along with their sad little containers, each of which is furnished with a forlorn plastic palm tree and a couple inches of water. (Adventure Aquarium it's not.) The hatchlings are red-eared sliders, an aquatic species that can (but, under these conditions, probably won't) approach a foot in diameter.
The officers seized the animals outside a Pathmark. But they had no success interrogating potential witnesses as to the whereabouts of the turtle pushers. (The turtles weren't talking, either.)
The Food and Drug Administration restricted sales of turtles less than 4 inches long in 1975, back when tiny sliders were being sold widely, in an effort to curb infections with salmonella, which they carry. New Jersey law prohibits the sale of any turtle in the interest of protecting threatened species, though possession is legal.
Strangely, though, Camden has a tougher ordinance on its books that outlaws all turtle possession. More strangely, it's enforcing it. Over the past five years, McGarry estimates his office has charged "only" 10 people with illegally harboring a turtle.
It must be said that buying hatchling turtles off the street is a terrible idea - mostly for the turtles. The sensitive creatures won't come close to their humanlike potential life spans without careful keeping and feeding. Moreover, they do carry salmonella, which can make people, and especially children, very sick.
But this issue probably could be left to the FDA and state wildlife officials for now. As one wise resident told 6ABC, "Camden has more problems than turtles." In other words, the city can get to the turtles later - maybe after it has a better handle on crime, schools, infrastructure, finances, and corruption. You know - the people.