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GETTING A TORTOISE

 AS A PET

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A: C. Highfield

Thank you for turning to to the Tortoise Trust searching information on the availability of tortoises as pets. As you may know, the species once most popular as pets (principally Testudo hermanni and T. graeca, although also including T. marginata ) are now on Appendix 2 of CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) and are also covered by additional, EU-wide, legislation which controls sale, transport and possession within Europe. As such, they may no longer be imported, sold, offered for sale or otherwise traded in within Europe without a special permit. Trade collecting, import and sale of wild tortoises of these species is prohibited totally.

Private individuals may sell a 'surplus' tortoise but only if they are in possession of the relevant CITES documentation. This applies even if the animal is a long-term pet or is captive-bred in this country. Different countries also insist upon various marking provisions - the UK normally required microchipping of animals to be sold and any adults used for breeding stock (unless the juveniles are below 100 mm straight plastron length, when other conditions apply).

In the USA and in other countries, these particular laws may not apply, but you do still need to investigate the legal situation carefully: some species are subject to very little regulation, but other species are highly protected and possession without the necessary permit may be a serious criminal offence. Even some "common" species are subject to strict legal protection in some places.

So, how do you acquire a tortoise if your interest is genuine? Firstly, you need to learn all you can about the different species and their special needs. You may be offered American or Asian box tortoises, Russian tortoises, or various tropical tortoises for example - make sure you know the details of diet and environment these require (which are very different from Mediterranean tortoises).  Relevant articles on these various species may be found on this website.

The next thing you should do is to join a herpetological (reptile) or tortoise organisation (such as the Tortoise Trust). That way, you will not only have access to specialist advice and help when you need it, but you will also receive newsletters which frequently contain (legal) adverts for tortoises, including captive-bred stock. At this point can we just emphasise that the Tortoise Trust itself does not sell tortoises - but our newsletter does carry member's adverts for animals. All of these adverts comply fully with the law.

Some reptile shops do sell tortoises - but do make sure that the animals are sold with FULL DOCUMENTATION (if required, depending upon the species) as illegal animals are commonplace via this route. Check all the information you are given carefully. Few dealers give adequate or accurate information on care, for example.

Our mailing list is a good place to ask if you are unsure of what the dealer may be telling you.

WHAT ABOUT COST?
If you buy a Mediterranean tortoise, you can expect to pay around 80 to 200 in the UK on average. Juveniles are usually at the lower end of this range, and egg-laying females tend to be at the upper end.

You may also know that the Tortoise Trust receives tortoises for re-homing from time to time, and that we work in conjunction with Turtle Homes to find good homes for rescued or confiscated animals. These are looked after by volunteer members. Naturally, we are always pleased to hear of new volunteers, but we do stress that the waiting list in many cases is quite long. More people want tortoises than animals are available. The Tortoise Trust re-homing scheme does not involve fees of any sort - but we do insist that potential foster homes meet strict standards and that the members concerned have attained a very good standard of technical knowledge. Courses are run on this subject. See our online training program at www.ttinstitute.net . We highly recommend taking such a course before considering taking on any tortoise.

So, our advice is this: Join the Tortoise Trust and get the (excellent) newsletters. If you are in the USA, we highly recommend registering with Turtle Homes Inc. if you are interested in offering a good home to an unwanted tortoise or turtle.

Tortoise Trust Membership forms can be downloaded from this site or you can join today, via our secure online membership system. Possibly volunteer as a potential foster carer. Learn all you possibly can about tortoises and turtles. If you are enthusiastic and dedicated, you may well be fortunate enough to help a tortoise to a good home before too long. We are sorry, but we cannot recommend buying tortoises from dealers or shops under any circumstances, so please do not ask us for a "recommended dealer". Also note that due to the vast number of enquiries we receive on this subject, we cannot provide further information over the telephone or by email on the topic of buying/adopting tortoises to non-members. If you are seriously interested - join the Tortoise Trust and take it from there.

Frequently asked questions

Can you recommend a breeder?

No, other than those listed in our Newsletter. We do not keep up-to-date lists of who may have what particular species. Check the adverts in our current Newsletter. We take steps to try to ensure that all advertisers are legal and genuine.

Can you Recommend a dealer?

No. See above.

Can I buy a tortoise on holiday and bing it back with me?

Animal imports require special permits, both export permits and import permits. Depending on the species, permission can be very difficult to obtain. You should check with the relevant authorities in both countries. Attempting to import tortoises illegally is a serious offence. Do not believe what dealers tell you. Check with the authorities. Dealers just want to make a sale, they do not care if the tortoise is confiscated and you are prosecuted on your return...

Where can I obtain a mate/companion for my existing tortoise?

You should first consider the wider issues, that of possible health and behavioural problems that may arise. Mixing different species and age groups can be especially risky. Identify your existing animal carefully. Only consider a truly compatible tortoise from a safe and disease-free background. Our Newsletter is a good resource.

How do I get the Tortoise Trust Newsletter?

It is mailed free to all full members.

Can I buy a single issue?

No.

Do people advertise tortoises for sale on your Internet mailing list?

No.

Can you recommend someone in my area who has tortoises for sale?

No.

So how DO I get a tortoise?

See above. Join reputable groups and organisations. Learn all you can. Join our very helpful mailing list. You will soon contact genuine breeders and may also be considered for adoption. Genuinely interested new members are very welcome!