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getting a tortoise,advise please

(17 Posts)
gardeningmum05 Tue 26-May-09 15:25:00

when i was a kid we had a tortoise, and he roamed the garden quite happily, at night slept under a step, pottered round the garden during the summer.the only maintenance he got was a varnish once a year and a plate of salad every day.then in autumn stuck him in a shoe box and put to sleep the winter in the airing cupboard. a really easy pet.
the kids want one so off to the pet store we go, and blimey apparantly we need a hutch type thing for him, and loads of gear costing £200 angry

can somebody please tell me, is this a way of getting money out of unsuspecting tortoise wanters, or have tortoises gone soft wink

gardeningmum05 Tue 26-May-09 16:55:08


RumourOfAHurricane Tue 26-May-09 16:58:37

Message withdrawn

gardeningmum05 Tue 26-May-09 17:10:04

thankyou shineon, great site.
do you have a tortoise by any chance? if so where do you keep it?

lazydog Wed 10-Jun-09 20:52:37

Hi gardeningmum05!

I'm a MN newbie and just joined today and spotted your post. I know the thread's a bit old, but hopefully I'm still in time. I've been keeping and breeding tortoises for decades. Please don't rush into buying a tortoise...especially from a pet store.

I've obviously no idea how long you had your previous tortoise, but I'm amazed he survived a Winter!!! Certain species of tortoises hibernate in the Winter - but by no means all - and they do because it is cold. Keeping a tortoise in the airing cupboard over winter is the absolute worst thing to do. They should either be kept in warm, well lit conditions, or allowed to hibernate (after an appropriate fasting period so that there is no undigested food in its gut) at a temperature that is between 4C-8C. Believe it or not it is widely recognised that the best/safest hibernation method is to use a 'fridge!

It is also vital that you never varnish/oil/paint or anything else on a tortoise's shell, as it is porous and they use it for thermoregulation - artificial coatings can serious mess this up.

Please contact me directly on l a z y d o g a c r e s if you want more advice, or for me to recommend a reputable breeder, as most stores give AWFUL care advice, sell totally inappropriate equipment and their tortoises are usually wild caught imports, infested with (at best) parasites, and at worst an often fatal (to the tortoise) chelonian strain of the herpes virus.

An excellent read on the subject of keeping tortoises as pets is this:

CarGirl Wed 10-Jun-09 20:56:03

Welcome to MN lazydog.

Is there a need for adult female tortoises? In our extended family there is an old tortoise, she's at least 30 probably 40 (or even older). She is obviously reasonably well looked after (although they won't believe me about the fridge thing!) but I wondered if she would be useful as part of a breeding programme somewhere or are the solitory animals and she's happy on her own?


lazydog Wed 10-Jun-09 22:42:37

Hi CarGirl,

There would be plenty of people willing to take her off their hands if they no longer want her, but the trouble is that as a long-term lone female of indeterminate age, you really would not want to allow her to breed. Serious egg-binding complications are much more likely if an elderly(ish) female is bred for the first time, although if she was adult when they got her, chances are she has had a few clutches of eggs before she was torn from the wild for the pet trade.

If you have any concerns about her care (i.e. they're feeding animal protein to a purely herbivorous tortoise, or they only feed it lettuce & cucumber, with virtually no nutrients or fibre) then there's excellent care info on the Tortoise Trust website. Maybe you can drip-feed the good advice to them from time to time? LOL!

popmum Wed 10-Jun-09 22:57:34

my (limited) understanding was you could only legally buy tortoises from the tortoise trust rather than pet shops, is this right?

popmum Wed 10-Jun-09 23:03:18

actually just looks like they rehome but only to members (I know someone who works in this area of customs)

lazydog Wed 10-Jun-09 23:04:34

No, that's not the case. In fact the Tortoise Trust only extremely rarely sell off a few of their own captive bred hatchlings, but that's a once in a blue moon sort of thing.

You can legally buy tortoises from many sources, including pet shops, as long as they have the correct paperwork (in the case of CITES protected species.) The main problem with this is that many pet stores are selling tortoises as captive bred when in fact they are wild caught imports. The paperwork is genuine, as in it is not forged, but it has falsified details on it. Sadly DEFRA (who are the licencing authority) are pretty free about handing out the certificates without (in my opinion) anywhere near enough checks on the true source of these tortoises

lazydog Wed 10-Jun-09 23:08:25

Oops - our messages crossed in the ether, LOL!

Yes, they do regularly rehome tortoises to members who can prove that they have adequate facilities and knowledge to care for them properly. The tortoise(s) you get never actually belong to you, though - it's like a permanent fostering agreement. Quite sad, really, although I fully understand the logic, as it meant that we had to part with several of our rescues when we emigrated in 2005

CandleQueen Wed 10-Jun-09 23:11:02

So what equipmnt DO you need for a tortoise. We've been looking into getting one, but don't have room for a huge tank in the house - we were hoping for a garden tortoise!

Do they dig/burrow? What sort of boundary is best?
My Dad tells of his childhood pet tortoise who used to climb a chicken wire fence to escape to the neighbours veg patch.

lazydog Wed 10-Jun-09 23:26:48


"don't have room for a huge tank in the house"

Well, for starters they should never be kept in tanks or vivariums wink What you need is a large, open topped "tortoise table" as described in the pet tortoise booklet I linked to earlier.

It's safest to start a hatchling tortoise indoors where temperatures can be controlled and you can watch it more carefully, but YES, as soon as you have established that it is thriving and healthy, then you definitely should keep certain species of tortoise outdoors for the Summertime in the UK. Not only is it possible - it is infinitely preferable, both psychologically and physiologically, to keeping them mainly indoors.

For some great ideas of what you need to provide proper outdoor accommodation for a tortoise, please see:

You need good, solid boundaries, and yes, they really can dig, so it needs to be a deep boundary too - ideally bury chicken wire under the whole enclosure to prevent tunnelling escapes.

You must provide a well drained, sandy/soil area, and not leave them on a damp-holding, lush lawn, otherwise your naturally arid-dwelling tortoise is highly likely to develop shell rot on its plastron (underside).

To allow the tortoise a warm, dry area on cooler or rainy days, most keepers/breeders will have adapted a greenhouse to allow free entry as/when the tortoise chooses, or failing that, a small shed with power (for basking lamps and lighting.)

Obviously in extremes of weather, and for periods when you're preparing for hibernation, OR have just got your tortoise up from hibernation, OR while you over-winter your tortoise if it is not hibernating, then yes, a suitable indoor tortoise-table or indoor pen type habitat is necessary. This will also be needed if the tortoise ever needs closer supervision, for example, in the case of it being treated for a medical condition.

This indoor accommodation will require appropriate heating and lighting. Mercury vapour bulbs are ideal (Megaray brand is the best) as they combine heating and UVB in one basking source, but you do need to make sure that there's enough space around/under the lamp to avoid overheating (of both the tortoise, obviously, and of the accommodation (fire risk!))

If you need information about reputable private breeders in your area (as opposed to the many unscrupulous online dealers and pet stores who are known to sell sick imported tortoises) then please email me. I'm no longer living in the UK, but still have a large number of contacts in the UK tortoise-keeping/breeding community.

CandleQueen Wed 10-Jun-09 23:36:20

Thanks for that.
Looks like we'll have to do a bit more prep in the garden before we're ready for a purchase!

CarGirl Thu 11-Jun-09 15:18:04

The family tortie has been in the family for 25 years or so (think it was inherited from neighbours!) she has free reign on a large garden is well known for chasing anyone wearing red toenail varnish (she loves strawberries) I think she gets a very varied and suitable diet I just worry that she must be lonely!

lazydog Thu 11-Jun-09 17:35:25

Absolutely not going to be lonely. They're not social at the best of times and introducing her to other tortoises now, when she's used to her own space, could cause her undue stress.

Another factor is that there is always a risk of cross-contamination of an illness that one may be carrying without active symptoms, but that is devastating to the whose immune system isn't used to it, if you see what I mean?

Also you'd need to ensure you knew her exact species (mixing species increases the risk of passing pathogens) and you could only re-home her with females because of the egg-binding risk discussed earlier.

Best leaving well alone I think!

CarGirl Thu 11-Jun-09 17:39:10

Thank you, it's great to know she's happy on her todd!

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