Tortoise Vivarium Reviews and
Part One: Jon Coote Tortoise Starter
Three: Tortoise Table habitat
have reported concerns about this type of tortoise accommodation
before, for example in our comprehensive indoor
housing article, but recently we undertook a very detailed series
of measurements and conducted the most comprehensive tests and
reviews ever carried
out on the different types of indoor habitat available for tortoises.
The full series of reports are now available. The
a popular glass tank style vivarium sold for tortoises, the JON COOTE
TORTOISE STARTER KIT.
promotional material for this product reads:
kit has been endorsed by reptile expert Jon Coote, with the first time
owner in my mind. They contain everything required to provide the
correct environment for the intended animal.
of a custom made glass tank, heating, substrate, décor, feeding
bowl, thermometer and full instructions - the primary aim with these
kits is the inhabitant’s welfare.
kit has earned praise from some of the trade’s hardest critics. "
findings were very different.
THE FULL TEST REPORT HERE
- The supplied basking lamp is under powered and is incapable
of producing an adequate basking temperature (an absolute minimum of 30
˚C) at the basking site unaided at average ambient room
temperatures. The fact that the height of the lamp cannot be
adjusted, and that the fine mesh grill also blocks and dissipates both
light and heat contributes to this very serious failure.
The ambient room (background) temperature needed to be elevated to 26 C
before a temperature of 30 ˚C at the basking site could be achieved.
This is unrealistically high and is far above the level maintained in
an average house (21 ˚C or 70 ˚F). Extended trials with this vivarium
suggest to us that as supplied, it is capable of producing a basking
temperature of approximately 5 ˚C above ambient at best.
The supplied basking lamp emits zero UV-B. The tortoise is entirely
dependent upon sufficiently regular use of the oral calcium and D3
supplement included. If a lamp that does emit UV-B is substituted (as
supplied the Jon Coote Advanced Tortoise Kit) much of the benefit will
be wasted as the fine mesh screen blocks most of the UV-B generated. In
our opinion this is a serious design defect.
The supplied heat pad is under powered (12 watts), and is too small, to
provide adequate levels of background heat within the vivarium. In
tests conducted overnight, average air temperatures within the unit
fell to ambient with the heater in both rear wall and under floor
modes. It is, however, capable of producing a very localised extreme
‘hot spot’ when used in under-tank mode with a thin substrate covering,
of such a level as to cause severe thermal burns (up to 53 ˚C). No
thermostat is provided. When used in under-tank mode without a
thermostat heat mats are intrinsically dangerous. The practice of
relying upon ventral heat with chelonia is questioned by leading
The two small plastic thermometers supplied are inadequate to gauge the
actual conditions within the vivarium. They are of very poor accuracy
and when used as directed produce grossly misleading results. They do
not, for example, measure the actual basking site or substrate
temperatures. When a potentially fatal substrate temperature of
53 ˚C was recorded in these tests, the supplied thermometers indicated
that the basking site end of the tank was only 30 ˚C. This could easily
mislead a novice user. All vivaria should be checked regularly using at
least a reliable contact thermometer to establish the gradients
obtained and minimum-maximum temperatures at all basking positions and
retreat sites. We recommend that if possible, a non-contact Infra-Red
thermometer should be used in addition, together with a reliable
hygrometer to establish the levels of humidity within the
environment. Such routine checking will quickly reveal problems
and will help to prevent injury and death.
The lack of space and poor ventilation of the unit prevents an adequate
thermal gradient forming. In our tests, differentials between the “hot”
and “cool” ends of the tank as low as 1.5 C˚ were recorded. This is
completely unacceptable. It is, however, characteristic and typical of
all small glass tank type vivarium enclosures. They are simply not
large enough to allow a useful gradient to form.
The unit is said to be suitable for Mediterranean tortoises, African
Spurred tortoises (Geochelone sulcata) and Horsfield’s tortoises
(Testudo horsfieldii) up to a straight line carapace of 150 mm (7”).
The instructions supplied fail to even mention the requirement for
adequate outdoor housing for any of these species, and instead suggest
that “room sized accommodation may subsequently be required for African
Spurred tortoises for example”. In our opinion, the impression is
clearly given that exclusively indoor accommodation is acceptable for
all of these species. This is not the case and is seriously misleading.
Further, we feel that given the units very restricted floor area (0.36
sq. m. or 3.87 sq. feet) the claim that it is suitable full-time living
accommodation for a tortoise of up 150 mm or 7” carapace length
is not only incorrect but is positively inhumane and to keep a
tortoise so confined is quite probably unlawful under the Animal
Welfare Act (2006) which makes it a duty to provide “suitable”
accommodation. The many environmental failings noted here also, in our
opinion, are so serious that any tortoise confined within it is not
adequately protected from injury (the excessive substrate temperatures
recorded) and that the incorrect temperatures ranges, poor gradients
and humidity problems recorded here also place this product in probable
breach of the requirements relating to a “suitable environment”
and “need to be able to exhibit normal behaviour patterns” (e.g.,
thermoregulation) as specified by the Act.
The substrate supplied is, in our opinion, entirely unfit for purpose.
The problems with securing a satisfactory and safe level of humidity
are obvious. The recommendation that this very small quantity of
substrate should be changed only “every six months”, even in the case
of a 150 mm or 7” tortoise, is also completely unacceptable and will
invariably lead to severe problems with bacterial and fungal
contamination and consequently to high levels of disease.
Contaminated substrates are regularly implicated in skin and shell
disease in chelonia, and also in respiratory diseases of both fungal
and bacterial origins (Gardner and Oberdorster, 2005). A small
volume of substrate like this would, in our opinion, need to be changed
at least once a week.
this report examined the product of one particular manufacturer, it is
our opinion that all “glass tank” vivaria of a similar size and design
will invariably produce a very similar performance. The problems noted
are largely an unavoidable result of this small, enclosed design.
urge all responsible retailers to cease recommending units of this
general size and design (enclosed glass vivarium tanks) for use with
terrestrial tortoises. Our recommendation is for units with
substantially more floor space, with much increased airflow and with
improved temperature gradients, and which provide safe and effective
basking facilities. It should be stressed to all purchasers that indoor
vivaria are only a partial solution to the accommodation needs of
tortoises, and that additional spacious outdoor housing is also
essential on both environmental and welfare grounds.
the light of this, we now recommend that YOU SHOULD NOT PURCHASE OR USE
ANY HABITAT OF THIS DESIGN (fish-tank style unit, with or without
(c) August 2009 Tortoise Trust