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7 Simple Rules for Successfull Tortoisekeeping

Chris Tabaka, DVM, Memphis Zoo

The following are my personal observations and are based on experiences with both herp collections at work and also at home.

The following are the rules I live by in my collection

  1. First and foremost, captive bred is ALWAYS better than wild caught. While wild caught animals may be cheaper in the short run, there is a reason for their lower price. These animals are incredibly stressed from being captured, held in their native country, shipped hundreds to thousands of miles generally in cramped and crowded conditions, held again for distribution, then shipped once more to various points of the globe. All of this leads to a weakened immune system which leads to complications such as astounding parasitic loads, septicemia, and a lot of times death. This doesn't even take into account the ecological devastation which is being supported by such buying habits. Most species of tortoise are now being captive hatched and raised and are well worth the price for a healthy, long lived animal.

  2. Quarantine. I personally quarantine my tortoises for at least 3 months before putting them in with the rest of my collection. I know of others that quarantine for a year. Most tortoises are capable of living a hundred or more years - the time for quarantine is miniscule compared to this time frame.

  3. Research. Research. Research. I cannot emphasize this enough. Going out and impulse buying that cute baby spurred tortoise (G. sulcata) from the pet store then discovering that they can go over 50 pounds in less than a decade can be a sobering experience.

  4. Reptile veterinarian. Find one in your area before buying any herp. This is a good place to look. The ARAV is an association of veterinarians with an interest/ expertise in reptile and amphibian medicine. Having a good reptile vet who has seen your animal before is priceless when something goes wrong.

  5. Do NOT ever - under any circumstances - mix species. Russian roulette is not a good game to play and mixing species is a loaded gun. I have heard horror story after horror story of entire collections being literally decimated due to this problem. Why take a chance? Build the extra pen or enclosure and find a mate of the same species - it will save you heartache in the long run.

  6. Replicate Mother Nature. Tortoises have been evolving for thousands and thousands of years to live under very specific conditions. While some have developed to survive in the deserts of Africa, others are almost semiaquatic in Asia. While some are known to be partial omnivores, most are strict herbivores. Research the species you are going to buy before your purchase so that when it enters your home/outside pen, the transition is seamless and the overall stress minimized.

  7. Natural UV. There is simply nothing on the market that can beat what nature provides. This is especially true when it comes to UV. While some may consider it anthropomorphic, I can honestly say that my tortoises "smile" when they are put into their outdoor pens for the spring/summer. Build that outdoor pen in your backyard or put their enclosure outside when you leave for work in the morning and bring it in in the evening. Your pet will be all the healthier for it.