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    Tortoise Husbandry Guide.


    Tortoises

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    The most common Tortoise available in NZ are the Mediterranean tortoises, the Spur-thighed (Testudo graeca and the Hermann’s tortoise (Testudo hermanni) The Spur thighed tortoise is a very long lived animal, achieving a lifespan of upwards of 125 years, with some unverified reports of up to 200 years.
    Their natural range is across North Africa, southern Europe, and southwest Asia, were they are found in different biotopes and habitats.
    These tortoise are very similar in appearance but the spur-thigh as large symmetrical scaling on the top of the head, bigger scales on the front legs and notable spurs on each thigh, the Hermanns tail also bears a spur at the tip of it which the spur-thigh lacks.
    Housing
    Mediterranean tortoises kept in this country will normally require a combination of outdoor and indoor facilities. Indoor facilities alone are rarely adequate and should not be solely relied upon. Tortoises require far more space than most reptiles, and do not tend to do well if kept in classic vivarium-style enclosures for extended periods. If you cannot provide both indoor and outdoor facilities you should reconsider keeping a tortoise as a pet. Inadequate housing can result in serious health problems over time and they can live a very long time if cared for properly
    Indoor housing
    In cooler parts of the country some form of indoor housing may be required from time to time especially for juveniles under 3 years old but whenever possible, outdoor habitats should be used as often as the weather allows. Inappropriate indoor housing will cause bad health and developmental disorders in juveniles.
    tortoise table.jpgIt is not recommended to use a fish tank or vivarium as they are generally too small and lack ventilation, building a ‘tortoise table’ is the preferred enclosure. As the name implies it is more of an open table arrangement wit a minimum size of 122cm x 76 cm x 22 cm, sides need to be high enough so the tortoise can’t climb over them. A basking light and UVB tube can be fitted side by side at one end and a small box at the other for sleeping in, this is done so it will get adequate exposure while basking under the heat source, ensure the correct temperature at tortoise shell height.
    Once you have built the enclosure add a plastic or rubber liner to protect the timber from any water spills then add a substrate, a mix of play sand and topsoil at a 50/50 ratio as it is easy to keep clean, about 50mm for young tortoise or 75mm to allow them to dig in if needed. I usually add a couple of ceramic tiles to act as a feeding area, easy to wipe and stops food from getting covered in substrate, clay pot plant trays make excellent water and feeding dishes the glazed ones are easy to clean.
    Outdoor housing
    A dry and well-drained area with both shade and full sunlight is needed to avoid any possible respiratory and shell infections developing over time, an area with shade and sunlight, well drained soil and protection from dogs, cats and hawks is essential.
    The outside perimeter of the enclosure needs to be made of unclimbable material at least twice the height of the length of the tortoise, I usually use corrugated iron for this and dig it into the ground to ensure they can’t burrow out, cover the top with some type of netting to keep intruders out. Ensure you have enough space to permit normal behaviour and give adequate exercise and avoid any possibly toxic plants in it, a variety of terrain and substrates adds positive enrichment for your pet. Flat slippery surfaces can make it hard for them to right themselves if they flip over,
    DIET.
    In the wild Mediterranean tortoises have a high fibre, low protein, low fat, low carbohydrate, low sugar and calcium rich diet. Avoid items such as peas, beans, cat or dog food, high levels of fruit, instead a good variety of green leaf vegetation and flowers is recommended and what their digestive systems are designed for. An excellent website for diet requirements is https://www.thetortoisetable.org.uk/plant-database/#.WxzB23qFPIU

    Growing food plants in pots is good, dig them down to ground level and when plant is demolished replace with another you have been growing in same size pot, this can work in an indoor set up by cutting a hole the right size to accommodate different plants you have grown outside.
    They are very susceptible to developing growth abnormalities as a result of incorrect nutrition so please research yourself from reputable sources.

    Over Wintering or Brumation

    A state of hibernation that worries most reptile keepers,  some reptiles go into this when food supplies dwindle in the wild, at the onset of autumn or winter your Tortoise may refuse to eat for long periods of time, or become increasingly inactive and lethargic, how and where they brumate can be varied for different individual reptiles within a species. Brumation can last anything from one week to 4 or more months, during this period their metabolism slows right down and some may wake have a drink and go back to sleep again. Don’t try to force water or food on the reptile during this period and try to minimise disturbing it also, though a quick check to ensure it is alright is okay.  Let your animal decide what it wants and needs, youngsters often times do not brumate the first year but adults do,, once they wake up they may take a couple of days to get back to their normal behaviour and eating. A plywood box full of dry leaf litter has worked for me as a winter box.

    It is best for tortoise under 3 years old to bring them indoors as soon as temperatures start to cool and they slow down.

    Tortoise live for extremely long periods so before accepting the responsibility of captive maintenance of a Tortoise the keeper needs to be aware that this can be a very long-term task possibly well over 40 yrs and maybe 100 with tortoises.
    If a child loses interest in a pet turtle, the animal must be disposed of to another person.
    Under no circumstances should it be released to the wild.


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