Tortoises can make very interesting pets for people of all ages, but they are more difficult to care for than you may think. There are many different species of tortoises, including Mediterranean Spur-thighed Tortoise, Hermann’s Tortoise (sometimes called the Mediterranean Tortoise) and the Leopard Tortoise. Depending on the species, they can vary greatly in their dietary requirements and size; so, before rushing out to buy one, you should research each species carefully to find out which ones will be the easiest for you to care for.
Tortoises are basically vegetarians and will eat a large variety of fruits and vegetables, particularly leafy greens. It is, however, very important to ensure that they get enough roughage and calcium/phosphorous in their diets to keep them strong and healthy. A good balanced diet should be all your tortoise needs to keep it in peak condition, but some owners prefer to supplement their tortoise’s diet with additional calcium and vitamins to be on the safe side.
Tortoises are cold-blooded creatures and this means that when it is cold, they are cold, and when it is hot, so are they. Many climates in the world are not really suitable for tortoises, as they obviously like the weather to be as hot as possible. After a period of time they can become acclimatised to colder conditions, but you will still need to take extra care with them during extremely cold weather and frosts.
Keeping a tortoise in the house is not very practical, as they are very strong and can be quite messy. They will also try to get underneath all kinds of furniture with great determination, forgetting that they have to get a large shell underneath too! It is best, therefore, to keep them outside and provide them with a suitable house (preferably with heating for colder weather) and a pen. When constructing a pen you will need to bury the bottom of the fencing quite far down into the ground to prevent any burrowing, and fasten a top onto it to prevent any climbing or easy access for predators. Ensure that there are no sharp objects or poisonous plants in the pen, and sink a water bowl into the ground.
Many tortoises hibernate during the winter months, and this involves placing your tortoise in the middle of a pile of shredded paper inside a strong cardboard box. You will then need to make plenty of air holes in the sides of the box to ensure good ventilation. This may sound quite straightforward, but many tortoises have been known to die in hibernation for a number of reasons. Firstly, before your tortoise goes into hibernation, you should make sure that it has eaten within a few days and that it appears to be in good health. Then it is a good idea to weigh your tortoise so that you can check its weight again after hibernation. Store the box away from draughts in a warm, but not too hot, safe place where it can’t be knocked over or disturbed. It is also a good idea to check your tortoise carefully several times during hibernation to make sure that it is okay, as this will do no harm at all and will give you peace of mind.
Before purchasing a tortoise, make sure that you know where it has come from. Only buy one form a reputable source, and never be tempted to buy one that has been caught in the wild. In the EU certain laws have been implemented on the import and keeping of tortoises and some that were once popular as pets are now listed under CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species). It is also best to try and find a vet in your local area that specialises in reptiles, as many vets don’t know enough about tortoises.
Tortoises can make charming pets, and are certainly not the slow creatures people make them out to be. On a hot summer’s day these creatures can cover quite a lot of ground in a short space of time – despite having to carry a heavy shell around with them. If looked after properly, your tortoise could easily outlive you by living for a staggering fifty to one hundred years!