Turtle racing is a type of amusement often intended to entertain children at community social events. It has also appeared as a form of entertainment in some taverns. It involves placing a group of turtles on a small racetrack and allowing them to proceed at their own pace until one turtle crosses the finish line. Prizes may be given out to the owner or honorary owner of the winning turtle. Some people believe that turtle racing, when unsupervised and unregulated, can pose a threat to the health of turtles and turtle populations.
This event has long been considered a central part of many small-town festivals, fairs, and community social events across the United States. Children are traditionally encouraged to participate in turtle racing. Participants in the race are usually allowed to bring their own turtles. Some venues offer turtles for rent to potential participants.
Some are concerned about the potential hazards turtle racing can pose to populations of wild turtles. Most people who participate in turtle races collect wild turtles from roadsides and wooden areas, thereby removing them from their natural habitats. These turtles are often removed so far from their homes that they can't find their way back again. Turtles removed from their familiar territory often attempt to relocate it, and many could die in the attempt.
A further concern is that most turtles collected for racing turtles may be females, since females are often migratory when moving towards nesting grounds. The removal of nesting female turtles from a breeding population can be particularly damaging to that population.
Others are concerned about the conditions under which some turtles are kept prior to racing. Many of the venues where turtle races are featured offer turtles for rent to potential racers. These turtles may be kept in overcrowded, unsanitary conditions, where they are likely to catch or spread disease. If these turtles are returned to the wild, they could spread disease to the rest of the turtle population.
Some venues where turtle racing occurs do not allow participants to enter their own turtles into races, usually out of concern for the well-being of all turtles involved. Venues where turtle racing is handled with an eye to the turtles' well-being typically keep their own small supply of turtles. These turtles are usually bred on farms, rather than collected from the wild. They generally enjoy the care of a skilled keeper and are provided with suitable conditions. In these races, honorary owners may be chosen for each turtle in the race, usually at random.