Buying a tortoise, like any pet, requires a certain amount of prior research and should never be an impulse purchase, or one made without learning a little more about the animal. It’s worth remembering that tortoises can live for many years and demand continued commitment from dedicated owners.
Whether you rehome an animal from an existing owner or buy from a breeder, make sure you are confident that any tortoise you are considering has been bred in the UK, rather than imported form eastern Europe. It is far better to go to an established breeder who has bred the animals themselves in captivity.
An established breeder will:
- Show you the environment in which the animals have been bred
- Welcome any question you may have and offer comprehensive answers about areas such as housing, diet and general care
- Will ask you questions to establish that you are fully aware of how to look after your tortoise and will give it a good home
- Offer to provide ongoing advice in the future
- Keep the tortoise until you have set up its housing
- Provide a factsheet about day-to-day and longer term care
- Have the necessary DEFRA Article 10 documentation (see below)
Not buying your tortoise from a reputable source could find you getting your tortoise home only to have them fall ill a few days later. This may be due to such problems as dehydration during transportation causing kidney failure or infestation by parasites.
A number of tortoises that are sold as pets are in fact classified as endangered species. This includes the popular Hermann’s tortoise and the Marginated tortoise. A full list of breeds islisted here on the DEFRA web site in a list known as Annex A.
If you are thinking of buying or selling one of the breeds on this list, it is essential the seller has an Article 10 certificate from DEFRA authorising the sale. This will not only ensure you comply with the law, it also ensures you do not support illegal traders removing these animals from the wild.
While some sellers may recommend using a vivarium or fish tank for housing your tortoise, most species SHOULD NOT be housed in this way. It is difficult to maintain the correct temperature and levels of humidity in a vivarium, which can be harmful to hatchlings and juveniles.
The best form of housing is a table-top enclosure with four sides and an open top. This allows plenty of fresh air to enter the enclosure, providing much healthier accommodation.
While some owners use everything from old newspaper to bark chippings and hemp in their tortoise’s enclosure, the best option is an equal mix of fine play pit sand and soil.
Aim to provide a balanced diet of high calcium, low protein and wild foods, such as weeds like dandelion, nettle, mallow, and flowers. Supplement a diet with daily a dusting of calcium and Nutrobal Calcium Balancer
See the Light
Tortoises require exposure to ultra violet light in order to convert the calcium they eat into vitamin D3, which helps maintain healthy bones and shell. While the sun will provide tortoises with UV light, indoors they require a strong UVB fluorescent tube, ideally with a reflector to further increase the light they receive.
If you want to keep more than one tortoise ensure that you provide the necessary space for them to roam freely and retreat from one another. Juvenile tortoises will usually live together without incident, although as tortoises mature two males will become aggressive towards each other or will pester females once sexually mature.
As we said at the beginning of this article, buying a tortoise is a long-term commitment – tortoises are legendary for their longevity. Many will survive for decades, such as George, the TV tortoise on Blue Peter who eventually died in 2004 at the grand old age of 83!