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updated: 6/4/2013 4:47 PM

Danville turtle races scrapped after 49 years

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Associated Press

DANVILLE, Ill. -- In one eastern Illinois town, the turtles are being put out to pasture.

Organizers of the 49-year-old Turtle Reunion and Races in Danville have been told by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources that they can no longer gather and have their usual dozens of turtles in one place out of concerns that disease could spread among the animals.

Last Saturday's race was the last one, Turtle Club president Mike Puhr told The News-Gazette. The club has organized the race, which has raised about $10,000 a year for local charities.

"We hope our mission, as a group devoted to helping those with disabilities, can continue," Puhr said. "However, it is also realized, we need to protect these turtles, other reptiles, and our ecological environment from the spread of disease."

Puhr hopes to hold some kind of event without turtles next year to reach the 50-year mark.

Scott Ballard, a biologist and herpetologist with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, said the department received a complaint about the turtle races. Of the more than 95 turtles collected for last weekend's event, Ballard said, one showed signs of illness. That's a potential problem should others become infected and carry illnesses to other turtles when they're released after the races.

There were also potential concerns, he said, about whether those gathering the turtles all had the needed state licenses.

The turtles were all treated humanely, Ballard said.

The annual races were started in 1964. Businesses and individuals sponsored turtles and their donations amounted to almost $400,000 over the years, officials said.

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