Tortoises are some of the most needy, complicated animals one can keep as a pet. They require daily care, immense attention to detail and a great deal of research, as almost anything overlooked can result in an untimely (and sometimes smelly) death. They live inappropriately long and grow impractically large. If you are looking for a low-maintenance pet, please stop reading and consider a lovely hamster as an alternative. If you are a reptile fanatic and looking for a care-taking challenge, please continue reading!
Before beginning, it is important to note that in the UK, the most popular species of tortoise, Testudo hermanni, T. graeca, and T. marginata, have been banned from being imported, sold, or offered for sale. Similar legislation holds true in the EU. However, they are available through special CITES approved breeders who require extensive documentation when selling their tortoises. Make sure you properly research the laws pertaining to your desired species in order to prevent any legal troubles.
Now, for those of you who are still interested in obtaining a tortoise, the following information is for you.
After selecting your preferred species of tortoise, you will need to construct or purchase the proper equipment in preparation for its arrival.
A handy purchase for starting out is a 50 gallon Storage Bin
Outdoor accommodation requires a small house (a doghouse
In addition, all tortoises need large areas for exercising, and protection from marauding raccoons and other opportunistic predators. Providing a large area with deep fencing (to prevent escape by burrow) is ideal. The best course of action is to take your tortoise indoors at night and return it to its outdoor abode on dry, sunny days.
As herbivores, tortoises need a mixture of fresh vegetables and commercial pellets. Commercial pellets should comprise no more than 25% of the tortoise's diet.
In order to avoid severe metabolic disasters, you must provide appropriate lighting for your tortoise. The UV component of natural sunlight provides vitamin D3 to the animal, but if natural lighting is not available, you will have to provide the UV supplement by applying a light fixture. Try ReptiSun
Many UV lamps emit no heat, and thus an additional "basking" lamp must also be purchased.
As with all details pertaining to the pet tortoise, make sure you do your research to ensure your species obtains optimal lighting.
Choosing the right species is the most important decision to make when purchasing a tortoise. The difference in needs between species, from environment to dietary requirements, means that it is imperative to make sure you can properly care for the pet. You will want to purchase a captive-bred tortoise, that is, a tortoise that was bred in captivity. Capture and shipping can cause high levels of stress for the animal, making it more prone to disease. With proper care, most tortoises can live from 50 to 100 years--so make sure you have a successor in case your pet outlives you!
Here are some of the more popular species of pet tortoises:
Size: Can reach 60cm in length and up to 35 kg. Minimum pen size for an adult is 3 x 3 meters.
Diet: Herbivorous, grazing tortoises that need a high fibre/low protein diet. This can be provided by a variety of grasses and hays (at least 75% of diet) along with some edible weeds and flowers (dandelions, clover, endive, edible flowers, weeds, cactus pads). Small amounts of other leafy green vegetables are probably okay, but avoid foods high in oxalates (spinach, mustard and beet greens, kale, broccoli, and cauliflower). Do not feed it fruits, animal protein, or tortoise foods.
Diet: Should consist of leafy greens and grasses, supplemented with a variety of other vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, cucumber, carrots, etc.) and fruits (apples, apricots, grapes, melons, peaches, strawberries etc.) in smaller quantities. In the wild, they will take some insects, slugs, and carrion, but these are not necessary for a captive pet; too much animal protein is harmful (never feed dog or cat food). Calcium and D3 supplements should also be used.
Size: 10-20 centimetres long
Diet: Grasses, vegetation, leafy greens and flowers of non-poisonous plants and weeds (see: Edible Plants) are ideal, but if not available, feed a variety of greens (dandelion greens, endive, escarole, mustard greens, kale, Romaine lettuce, collards) as well as hay (Timothy or Bermuda). Avoid fruits, grains or animal protein. Supplementation with calcium and vitamin D3 powder is recommended.