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I have been offered a baby tortoise. Can you come and tell me your personal experiences of keeping a tortoise please?

(25 Posts)
HopeForTheBest Sun 31-Jul-11 13:04:47

I have always rather liked tortoises and thought it might be an interesting animal to have. DH was never very keen, though, so I didn't pursue it.

Now, a neighbour of our's mentioned that her boss's tortoises have had 30 babies and he is looking for homes for them. DH has said we can consider having one, maybe.
So I am now looking into it all more seriously and, tbh, am just gettng more and more confused the more I read.

The tortoises in question live outside all year round. A previous colleague of mine's mother also had tortoises that bred, and they also lived outside, all year round. She had about 60 (!) of them, ranging in age.
I live in Germany, where the winters can get very, very cold and we often have snow, btw.
I think that my colleague's mum provided a box for the hatchlings' first winter hibernation, but that's it.

The impression was that it was a free-roaming pet, low-maintenance (and low cost).

Now, what I am reading (tortoise trust etc) is talking about special equiptment, tortoise tables, heating lamps, dietary supplements, soaking them, etc. and I am properly confused.

I have no experience of reptiles at all. We have a dog, and previously had a cat. I am happy and prepared to put in whatever time etc necessary to make sure an animal is happy, but I do not want a pet which needs to be kept in a cage or container of any sort. It's free range or nothing! (I don't mean not providing secure areas in garden, of course, or if necessary a box for the winter).


Tortoises: high maintenance and complicated or low-key and let them get on with it?

lazydog Mon 01-Aug-11 18:40:28

Test - can't seem to post in this thread??

lazydog Mon 01-Aug-11 18:41:19

Ok, so I can, so something wrong with my original message (too long and boring?) Let's try it in bits!

lazydog Mon 01-Aug-11 18:43:21

Arghhh! I wrote a long reply and when I hit post my response disappeared (and wasn't in the box when I hit back, either...grrrr!!!) I've tried again and the same always happens confused

lazydog Mon 01-Aug-11 18:46:33

Basically I was saying that I am struggling to see how anyone could keep tortoises like that in Germany and not have significant mortalities.

CandiceMariePratt Mon 01-Aug-11 18:46:43

Watch out for dogs

lazydog Mon 01-Aug-11 18:49:50

There's good reason why tortoises are not native to Germany but are to the likes of Spain, Morocco, Tunisia...

lazydog Mon 01-Aug-11 18:52:35

There are tortoises in Russia but they're of a species that are more temperature hardy than others and they still can't cope well with the extremes they experience there and so have evolved to spend about 9 months of the year underground - hibernating in the Winter and aestivating in the heat of the Summer.

belgo Mon 01-Aug-11 18:53:05

I looked into getting one here in Belgium because I have seen them sold in the market but it turns out they are not easy to keep at all. They need a lot of sunlight and various vitamins and we didn't look further into it because our garden is shaded and gets very cold in winter. I've also heard they can be very territorial taking over the garden.

We got guinea pigs instead. they are much more cuddly.

lazydog Mon 01-Aug-11 18:55:13

I personally know of many pet tortoises that died in the UK this last (particularly cold) winter and I think you're probably talking of keeping them somewhere colder than that?

lazydog Mon 01-Aug-11 18:55:50

Any tortoise that is subjected to sub-zero temperatures during hibernation will likely die if the cold spell is prolonged, and if it's only brief can still have permanent blindness as their eyes have frozen sad You have more leeway the larger the tortoise, so hatchlings are most susceptible.

lazydog Mon 01-Aug-11 18:57:05

(Sorry everyone but anything over a few lines wont post!)

I strongly feel that someone should not have the responsibility of keeping an endangered species, such as a tortoise, without being willing to try to emulate their natural environment as closely as possible.

lazydog Mon 01-Aug-11 18:57:58

In Germany, UK, Canada, etc., that means providing supplementary heating, lighting, food and accommodation during the Spring and Autumn, even if you're hibernating it over the Winter.

lazydog Mon 01-Aug-11 18:59:59

All through hibernation they'll be using up fat reserves - although only very slowly during periods of ideal temps (4 - 5C). Once their reserves have gone their internal organs can rapidly become fatally damaged, so that is why it isn't recommended to hibernate them for too long.

lazydog Mon 01-Aug-11 19:01:08

However, yes, during Summertime a practice of carefully monitored "neglect" grin is definitely the way to go. Outdoor accommodation (secure from predators and escape) and a natural all weed diet is infinitely preferable to keeping them cooped up indoors.

mollythetortoise Mon 01-Aug-11 19:02:27

I have two tortoises ( guess the name of one!) . They are great and pretty low maintainence. They can be free roaming in spring/ summer but within a secure enclosure as they can dig. I would hibernate them in winter or they could freeze to death. It is easy though. A shoe box with holes in and some insulation material and put them inthe kitchen fridge. Yearlings only need to hibernate for one month, so say December. And as they get older, then longer. Mine are 4 and went in for 3 months last winter.they will need an indoor enclosure and basking lampfrom oct - mar in north Europe as it is too cold for them outside, they r cold blooded creatures. Have a look at www. for lots of info. A basking lamp is just a desk lamp, not expensive and bedding material can be bought cheaply from eBay. They r lovely pets and easy to look after.

lazydog Mon 01-Aug-11 19:05:10

I've been keeping and breeding tortoises since the early 1990s (originally in the UK and now in Rockies, so I now know all about cold Winters) and I will never let a hatchling of mine go to anyone who was planning to keep them indoors all year round, or outdoors all year round.

Carrotsandcelery Mon 01-Aug-11 19:05:53

My friend has a tortoise and she has various habitats for it to provide the various things it needs.

On hot days it is outside, with shelter, round the side of the house where it can't be snatched by birds of prey.

On medium days it is in a spacious glass box (ventilated) with lots of plants growing in it.

On cold days is it indoors, sometimes with a heat lamp.

She has grown plants that it loves to munch and has researched thoroughly.

She has also provided for its future as it is likely to live longer than she does so she is assuming her ds will take on its care.

It is a fabulous creature but I suspect you do need to know exactly what you are doing.

lazydog Mon 01-Aug-11 19:06:40

At minimum they will need to have a heated shed or greenhouse setup for Spring and Autumn, and supplementary UVB lighting. I also advocate fridge hibernation (as mentioned above) to all my hatchling's owners as it is by far the safest method.

lazydog Mon 01-Aug-11 19:09:49

Too right Carrotsandcelery!

I would also NEVER incubate more eggs than I knew I could find good homes for and I certainly wouldn't hatch 30 eggs and then start to look for homes for the hatchlings as I feel that would make me no better than a puppy farmer or something...

lazydog Mon 01-Aug-11 19:11:05

If you do decide to go for it, OP, feel free to message me with any questions smile

Now I'm off to write to MNHQ as to why I had to write a dozen messages instead of one............... confused

HopeForTheBest Mon 01-Aug-11 19:19:22

See? See?! This is exactly what I've been reading everywhere!

And yet I know of two people whose tortoises are outside all year (bar perhaps the freshly hatched ones). And not only are they ok, but they are multiplying!
They hibernate themselves ie dig themselves in somewhere. But still, we get some very cold winters here, and often have snow. And they are outside all the time.
How? Could it perhaps be a particular species that is somehow acclimatised to the weather here? Or am I talking crap? grin

Just to clarify: I wouldn't even dream of keeping an animal unless I could do so in a way that was good for it, hence my posting here.

lazydog - I have that problem so often when posting on MN that I now write all my replies in notepad and then copy over to the message window on the relevant thread. There is nothing more annoying than writing a huge long witty/informative/fabulous (delete as appropriate grin ) reply only for it to go missing. Grrrrr.

I think that I am going to decline the offer, at least for now. I could provide nice (though smallish) outside space for it, but don't really have anywhere to keep it inside over winter or in cooler weather. I shall look into it again next year, though, as we are house hunting (again).

Thank you for all your replies. Lazydog, I may bother you again some time if we do eventually decide to get one. Your posts (I've read all the older ones too!) are very informative and useful smile

HopeForTheBest Mon 01-Aug-11 19:21:27

Are you going for Most Prolific Poster of the Day, lazydog? wink grin

AmyStake Tue 02-Aug-11 00:09:38

Please find out what species they are. You might end up with what looks like a small cute baby tortoise and ends up huge, like a Sulcata or a Leopard tortoise which are the larger species available in the UK!

Hermann, spur thighed and marginated tortoises need DEFRA licenses I think.

lazydog Tue 02-Aug-11 00:50:47

"...very cold winters here, and often have snow. And they are outside all the time. How?"

If they dig below frost level (and are dry and safe from rodents) they'd survive but my suspicion is that with so many they don't notice (or don't mention) the unfortunate few that don't emerge in Spring sad

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