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The Turtle Man

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July 16, 2003

by Kristen Dahlgren

New York- Living in New York City usually means close quarters and maybe even a roommate or two, but a New York man whose got more than a thousand. And these aren't your average roommates.

In a city where it's not always easy to keep animals is an apartment with more than a thousand. Turtles and tortoises from wall to wall. A three thousand square foot loft, turned into Richard Ogust's turtle refuge.

"I would call it love," says Ogust. "I do call it love..."

But Ogust is more than a foster father- he's literally a life saver.  Experts say within twenty years, half of the world's turtle populations will be endangered.

John Behler of the Bronx Zoo says, "its a terrible dilemma. They are being eaten to extinction." In many countries turtles are considered a delicacy.

Busts in the black market mean many end up here- often in terrible shape. "Generally they have not had food in three or four months," says Ogust.

Today Ogust has more than fifty endangered species, but believe it or not, saving turtles wasn't a lifelong dream. Nine years ago, he was just a writer having dinner at a Chinese restaurant when he saw this turtle in the restaurant tank.

Twelve hundred turtles later, Ogust now lives downstairs, and he gets a lot of help from several conservation organizations. He plans to relocate his turtles outside the city soon. But he says, most will live in captivity for the rest of their lives.

Still he says he can't help but dream of the day when turtles like these can finally go home. Just last week ten thousand smuggled turtles were confiscated in Hong Kong. Only four of those survived.

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posted at 11:15AM by dave.miller@walb.com