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Man fined for giving away baby turtles as prizes at California fair

PASO ROBLES — A California Mid-State Fair carnival game operator faces a fine for giving away baby turtles as prizes because the tiny creatures pose a health risk.

Steve John Lopez, 41, faces a $1,000 fine and could face probation, the San Luis Obispo Tribune reported (http://bit.ly/1bW3cEh).

The tiny turtles were being given away at a game where contestants try to throw ping pong balls into floating rings. The state seized 65 turtles Thursday, of a total of 100 the vendor bought from a downtown Los Angeles seller.

Turtles and other reptiles can pose a threat of salmonella with their droppings, but baby turtles are considered more of a health risk because they're handled more frequently.

It's illegal to distribute turtles smaller than 4 inches long. The turtles Lopez gave away were about 2 weeks old, with some smaller than a quarter.

Department of Fish and Wildlife Lt. Todd Tognazzini says the department is pursuing a criminal complaint.

Those who won a turtle as a prize aren't law breakers but health officials encourage them to bring the turtles to the county's Division of Animal Services in San Luis Obispo so they can go to a turtle rescue.

The turtles grow far beyond their tiny size, and require special heat lamps and care.

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