Husbandry Pages of Shame
The Tortoise Trust and its membership work very hard to encourage the highest possible standards of husbandry and welfare for all captive chelonia. Advice on all aspects of husbandry is available on our website and in various books and publications.
Some things are plain common sense.... it is incredibly depressing, therefore, to see instituitions such as zoos, who's supposed role is to educate people about animals setting the worst possible examples. There is no excuse at all for this. In many cases, when such matters are taken up with the institution concerned (often as a result of complaints from members of the public) some action is taken to improve conditions. In other cases, complaints are ignored and the institution concerned seems to feel that they are above all criticism.
We present here some examples of what in our opinion are totally unnacceptable levels of husbandry - conditions that any zoo or institution should be thoroughly ashamed of.
These photographs were taken recently at DRAYTON MANOR PARK ZOO near Tamworth, Staffordshire, UK.
What is wrong here:
Various species, each with vastly different nutritional and environmental requirements, all kept together in a space that is far too small. We see here a Redfoot tortoise from S. America, an African Leopard tortoise, a North African Testudo graeca, Testudo hermanni, and a giant tortoise all "living" together. Not only is this contra-indicated due to disease transmission risk, but the behaviours and environmental profiles of each of these species is completely incompatible: Testudo hermanni and Testudo graeca, for example, will cause serious injuries to each other (T. hermanni bite - T. graeca "butt" causing shell injuries and consequent infections to less well protected species). They all have different dietary needs, different temperature and humidity needs, and they are self-evidently grossly over-crowded. There is no proper substrate. Several already show evidence of severe nutritional disorders. The individual needs of these tortoises are completely ignored by Drayton Manor Park Zoo.
What is wrong here:
The diet in this case is iceberg lettuce and tomato....could it possibly get any worse? No wonder the tortoises shown have irreversable shell and growth deformities due to apparent metabolic bone disease resulting from gross deficiencies of calcium and/or vitamin D3...... this is an appalling diet. The kind of diet we hoped had died out 40 years ago, and a diet that no modern, well informed keeper would dream of relying upon. What kind of message does this send to visitors? The same diet is, of course, being provided to all of these animals, despite the fact that it is a) suitable for none of them and b) they each have very different basic requirements (e.g., high fiber/grass content for the Leopard tortoises, fruit content for the Redfoot, and mixed herbs/flowers for the Mediterranean species). Needless to say... lots of different tortoises feeding together from an overcrowded tray is a wonderful way to spread fecal-born parasites....not to mention viral and bacterial pathogens.
An absolutely disgraceful exhibition of the very worst kind of husbandry practices. Exhibits like this were common 40 or 50 years ago, but have no place today. Now, we know better... or some of us do. It is time Drayton Manor Park took drastic action to turn this shocking debacle around. These poor animals deserve better than this.... a lot better.
Astonishingly, it seems that this zoo is a member of the BIAZA (British and Irish Association of Aquariums and Zoos) who state:
"BIAZA zoos are leading the way in animal welfare; from promoting high standards in the daily management of animals, to supporting and undertaking research to increase our understanding of animal welfare and how to best promote it"
If this is "leading the way in animal welfare" and demonstrates "high standards in the daily management of animals", we'd hate to see what goes on in those zoos who lag behind!
We invite the management at Drayton Manor Park Zoo to respond to the above. We will publish their response here (if they feel inclined to say anything).
Who is responsible?:
Drayton Manor Park
UPDATE MAY 31 2008: No response received from the management at Drayton Manor. We have been contacted by dozens of people who have made formal complaints and not one of them has received a response either. ....
UPDATE: SEPT 2008: Complaints continue to be made, including complaints from veterinary surgeons. No improvement or response from Drayton Manor.
Why do we do this? Because we have found that it works when all other avenues have been unsuccessful.
In one recent case, a well-known zoo had resisted efforts to upgrade its tortoise habitats and diets for years. Complaints from visitors were simply ignored. Finally, we featured them here. Within 12 months vast improvements were made and they have been removed from these pages.
The Tortoise Trust is ready to offer free advice (and rehoming where necessary) to assist any of the animals shown here. These are PUBLIC collections maintained by commercial businesses. We feel fully entitled to comment on the conditions prevailing. If an institution cannot keep a certain species correctly, they should not be keeping them at all in our view.
DO YOU HAVE SIMILAR EXAMPLES? PLEASE CONTACT US IF YOU DO AS WE WILL HIGHLIGHT ANY CASE THAT MEETS OUR EVIDENTIAL STANDARDS AND WHERE THE HUSBANDRY CONDITIONS DEPICTED ARE SO POOR AS TO JUSTIFY PUBLIC EXPOSURE HERE. WE WILL NOT NORMALLY 'EXPOSE' BAD HUSBANDRY CONDITIONS UNLESS WE ARE SATISFIED THAT COMPLAINTS HAVE BEEN MADE DIRECTLY TO THE COLLECTION CONCERNED AND NOTHING HAS BEEN DONE TO CHANGE THE SITUATION.