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Selecting a Tortoise - 'Education is the Key'

The aim of this article is to raise awareness to the unsuspecting public regarding an ongoing concern for the health of some readily available tortoises ...
We continue to receive numerous reports from concerned owners regarding their newly acquired tortoise which is already sick and when asked about the animal in question the answer is nearly always the same 'around 3 Years old, less then 100mm not requiring a micro-chip, ill and reported to have originated from Slovenia'. 

Observation & Examination

All the individuals investigated seem to have a considerably small, smooth, and dense carapace for a captive bred specimen - and one or more of the following ailments ... missing nails, plastron scrapes, scars, shell rot, carapace chips, runny nose, wheezing, breathing difficulties, lethargic, harbouring parasites and reported association to cases of a potentially fatal virus, with understandable symptoms of stress...
These kind of findings are not what you would expect to see when examining captive breed populations, especially not in such high numbers.


Wild Caught, Farmed or Captive Bred ?

Are these tortoises "Captive Bred" well that's the question being asked again and again ...

A number of enthusiasts have reported they were offered similar tortoises with certificates and that they could be obtained in extremely high numbers from 5000 to "as many as you like" it is very concerning to understand a breeder could have "countless" Juveniles for sale. To put this into picture - in order to have 5000 three year old tortoises available would suggest 5000 hatchlings are produced each year ... this would require housing of 5000 hatchlings, 5000 one year olds, 5000 two year olds, and then the 5000 three year olds ... not counting the 1000+ producing females and males to create this huge colony of 20,000 tortoises !

Amongst others A.C.Highfield of the 'Tortoise Trust' has reported;. 

Quote ...
"On contacting the Conservation Committee of the Slovenian Herpetological Society, for example, we were told that they had “no knowledge” of any commercial captive breeding programs in their country." more...

With a breeding program of this magnitude surely this would be something to be proud of, such an accomplishment!  Yet, No one has shown any conclusive evidence that a breeding program of this scale is actually taking place, do you know something ?

We have been informed that when a seller was approached by the new owner on the concerns of the smooth carapace they were informed this was due to the tortoises diet, not being manually feed but allowed to naturally graze for their food (Farmed?), this could be a contributing factor to why these tortoises often appear to be timid, stressed, and/or partially reluctant feeders - which in turn can be a good indication that they are not acclimatised to their captivity, the change in environment from free roaming to a captive enclosure with often un-welcomed human interaction can invariably cause stress which can eventually lead to illness ... This is a well known reaction that can often occur when restraining a former wild tortoise in an alien captive environment.

On other accounts we have been informed that a number of consignments containing these tortoises have been stopped by 'HM Customs and Excise' when attempting to enter the UK, and on the grounds of their extremely poor health they have been seized - the ailments are usually well established and often requiring many hours of specialist veterinarian care.

So even though its unlikely that the matter will be settled quickly until evidence is made available
Surely its unacceptable to allow the tortoises to suffer meanwhile... shouldn't they come first ?

A study commissioned by DEFRA and Performed by TRAFFIC International uncovered several concerning points...

Quote ...
"The cheapest tortoises found on sale were Hermann’s Tortoises from Slovenia available direct from a British importer."

"This price differential could be an indicator that the Slovenian-sourced tortoises may not be captive-bred, as such an operation would incur high costs, which would be passed onto the purchaser." more...



Defra (CITES) Statistics

The statistical figures for this chart were provided by Defra (UK).

In 2003 Slovenia joined the EU enabling transportation of certificated tortoises to freely leave the country and cross into the European Community.

As you will see from the graph above the huge number of T.hermanni - certificated here in the UK which originated from Slovenia, the figure of 1341 specimens dwarfs that of the UK and Germany put together, and yet no other Mediterranean species were recorded from Slovenia.


How can this effect you ?

We respond to the unfortunate owners who have purchased an ill tortoise as to help best we can, which is obviously too late in this reactive manner, the new owner is also stressed and in variably finding themselves biting off more then they can chew, spending more on Veterinarian fees than they did in the first place obtaining their tortoise - and this may just be the start.
We have also heard of an encounter where a breeder in Europe looking to add additional bloodlines into their own group and unknowingly at that time opted for several of these cheaper tortoises, it was to be a painful lesson for the breeder and a tragic fate for some of their long established group after becoming victims of an introduced fatal virus.


Cost, How many Tortoises to the Pound ?

This is another clue in establishing the origin of these tortoises, with all these large numbers of tortoises being held back for a numbers of years before being sold comes at a price ... but yet these tortoises are sold extremely cheaply wholesale and considering importation / transport fees are incurred within this price its even more astounding.

Tortoise Traders - Classifieds - Free Adds

We have all seen free adds placed by so called "reptile traders" multiplying out of control and these more often than not turn out to be Slovenian tortoises stating even further price reductions when purchasing in numbers -  2's or 3's ... to these people the tortoise seems to be quick money, with questionable pedigree these tortoises can then be purchased cheaply and sold on to the unsuspecting public as an 'off the shelf commodity'.

What can you do to help ?

We would like to ask for your help in becoming proactive by ...

Simply educating the people around you on the possible pitfalls that can be avoided when selecting a new tortoise, and when considering purchasing a tortoise don't rush into anything, a little research could save - time, money, committing an offence, and more importantly a tortoises life.


Further Reading




"Tortoise trade in Great Britain"



What do you think ?

If you have purchased one of these tortoises and had problems you would like to tell us about
Or maybe you know something we don't and would like to shed some light on this matter then contact us.



Thank You. 

Finally we would just like to thank everyone for their time and effort in helping us with this article.


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