with kind permission from a paper by Glenys Crane
are reptiles and therefore 'cold-blooded'. When the weather is warm they are
warm and when it is cold so are they. They have been one of the world's most
successful inhabitants, perfectly evolved to suit their environment, climate and
food plants. Then we expect them to live in England where:-
The winters are too long, meaning an
extended hibernation period.
The summers are too short, not always giving
enough time for them to eat a good variety of cultivated and natural foods to
enable them to gain weight, remain healthy and enjoy themselves.
Our springs and autumns linger on
interminably, not warm enough to induce them to eat yet not cold enough to stop
activity, using up their valuable reserves and decreasing their weight. There is
also the very real danger of a sudden frost causing fatalities. You will become
an avid follower of the daily weather forecasts!
are the two seasons you are most likely to have to keep your tortoise
indoors under a heat lamp to give him access to a 'summer' temperature of about
16°C at the cool end of his pen to a maximum under the light of about 28°C (it
must be a light, not a ceramic-type heater, as they need the benefit of light
him wandering about the living room or kitchen is not good enough. At
floor level he will be too cold and will have no appetite. And your carpets will
never be the same again! This is the time your tortoise might drive you mad as
they are not the tidiest of creatures, prone to scrape up all newspaper
substrate and defecate over food, churning all into a very smelly 'soup' before
sleeping on it! Many become very restless indoors, being independent characters
who prefer the outside.
is no doubt about it, it is quite hard work to keep a tortoise healthy and happy
in this country and it is quite a commitment to your time. If you are out at
work all day you will hardly every see your tortoise as he will awake after you
have left the house and be asleep before your return. Consequently you will have
no idea how he is faring and you will not find him a very rewarding pet.
like a lot of space and the freedom of a south-facing garden, which
contains a lawn with clover and dandelions on which to browse, flower beds and
rocks upon which to clamber would be ideal. They love sunbathing on concrete
paths at the beginning of the day, which soon become as snug as warm toast and
they then become very active and agile. Drinking water should always be
available in a shallow receptacle sunk into the ground such as an old plate, cat
tray or plant pot saucer. They need to wade in and put their heads down to
drink. You may never see them do this as they derive a lot of moisture from
their plant diet. but they do occasionally surprise you.
he has to be in a pen, make it large and of varied terrain, with a stony
area for his claws and access to sun and shade throughout the day. Ensure the
walls are escape-proof, tortoises are agile and persistent and can easily climb
wire fences. A solid boundary also prevents him looking and fretting to where
the grass is greener. Always ensure he is in a purpose-built rain proof house or
stone 'cave' at night as foxes often 'play' with tortoises they discover. He may
only receive teeth marks on his shell but he could lose a leg.
you find a vet who deals with reptiles as their whole metabolism is so
different to 'normal' warm blooded pets that many vets have not found it
necessary to study them. Some vets will honestly admit they don't know much
about tortoises but beware the ones who don't wish to lose face and bodge along
as best they can. Injections often prove fatal and vitamin injections should
never be necessary to an animal with adequate varied diet. It's easy to overdose
a cold-blooded animal whose slow metabolism does not adequately use up an
you first acquire your tortoise he may go 'off colour' and quiet. Just
because he's cold blooded doesn't mean he hasn't any feelings,
he will be missing his old familiar surroundings and may take a week or two to
get used to his new home and routine.
you keep more than one tortoise you will soon see they all have
individual personalities, likes and dislikes. If you have males and females you
must be prepared to have a separate area for the males,
who quickly become over-amorous (to put it politely!) and give the females no
rest, causing stress and related illnesses as well as actual bodily harm due to
butting and love-biting! In the wild tortoises can spend many days without
encountering each other but in the confines of even a large garden they are all
your tortoise seems to prefer only a small variety of food it may be that
this is all a previous owner has offered - if so do persevere to introduce new
tastes. They get to like many things but easily get 'hooked'
onto a favourite, to the detriment of their health. They can also get habituated
to being hand fed, say after nursing through an illness and it may be quite
frustrating to try and get them to feed independently again. They also seem
quite seasonal in their tastes, shunning one thing at a particular time which
they adore at another so keep persevering.
is an excellent idea to weigh your tortoise regularly and check him for
swellings etc., (if an abscess is allowed to form, the pus, the consistency of a
hard-boiled egg yolk in a tortoise, can eat into and destroy nearby bone
tissue). You will soon see a picture of his annual weight fluctuations and gain
a better idea of if he is thriving. If he seems at all seedy do not hesitate to
seek medical advice as, with his slow metabolism, if you wait until he really
looks bad it will probably be too late to treat him. He should be bright-eyed
and alert, walking with his shell raised off the ground. If well fed, he can
also be very indolent and spend most of the day lolling in the sun.
people recommend de-worming at least once a year, each summer. It's easy
for captive tortoises to get quite a build-up of worms, which doesn't help their
general health, due to re-contaminating themselves because of a build-up of
faeces in a contained environment. You should keep their areas extremely clean.
your tortoise is not heavy enough to hibernate, or shows signs of ill
health you must be prepared to keep him awake all winter - a quite demanding,
smelly and expensive business. If you cross your fingers and hibernate a
suspected ill tortoise you will probably find either a dead or much sicker
tortoise in the spring and will pay for the quiet winter with heavy vets bills
and intensive nursing which could include daily stomach tubing.
Hibernation itself, anyway, is not without its chores as you have to
monitor the temperature of the area in which the tortoise if hibernating as a
freezing temperature causes the brain tissues to freeze.
you wish to have a tortoise as a pet for a child please think again. They
are certainly endearing creatures of great character but children generally soon
lose interest as they are not cuddly, soft or warm and their strong legs and
claws soon prise off the grip of little fingers wanting to hold them. A guinea
pig or a kitten would be a much better choice and much less hard work. Tortoises
are by far the most demanding animal I have ever owned out of quite a varied
selection. Forget about the time when nearly every garden had a tortoise -
nearly every tortoise died during hibernation then, mainly due to the ignorance
of its owner and we are still learning.................
remember, a tortoise will only function well at the temperature it was
'designed' for - not our English climate. It's up to you to ensure it is kept in
an environment and temperature as much like its country of origin as possible
and to this effect you will probably become a devoted follower of the weather
laid down these rather daunting facts, once you have got used to all their
special requirements, you will find them rewarding individuals to know.
notes are by no means meant to be comprehensive and are only my personal
thoughts and observations based on many years experience, discussion with other
tortoise keepers and reading of the ever expanding literature available.