Tortoise are often thought of as a lazy man’s (or woman’s) pet, but nothing could be further from the truth (check out our article ‘Are Tortoises Easy to Care For?’). Whilst it’s true they don’t need anything like the level of physical attention as something like a cat or a dog, you still need to be just as attentive to their needs, whether it’s providing them with the right food, temperature and humidity, or a safe and interesting environment.
Before all of this however, the first thing you need to do for your tortoise, even before you own it, is to make sure you buy it from a reputable and ethical breeder or pet shop.
Too many tortoises are bred under appalling conditions, or simply snatched from the wild by unscrupulous individuals, so it’s important to do your bit not to feed the growth of such operations.
Generally speaking there are 3 main sources where you can obtain your tortoise.
By my definition tortoise breeders are people who breed tortoises here in the UK, the USA or in your country of residence, and are usually passionate ‘tortoise people’. As such you can usually trust that a breeder treats their tortoises well, and that they’re knowledgeable about their specific needs and set up requirements.
A good breeder will be able to answer any questions you have about your prospective tortoise, for example regarding to space, lighting and humidity requirements. If you find that they don’t seem particularly clued up on such issues then it might be a red flag and sign that you should look elsewhere.
A good breeder will also go out of their way to ensure you have the right set up in place before you take your tortoise home. Again, if they don’t it could be a bad sign. Be prepared with photographs of the set-up you’ve got if your breeder wants to check that you’re adequately prepared. If you’re not, then they should in theory refuse to sell to you before you’ve got the required equipment.
Whilst it’s not unusual for breeders not to wish to meet at their breeding facility (unfortunately the prevalence of tortoise thefts has made this too risky an activity for many breeders), they should still want to meet you in person to carry out the transaction, whether at your home, or an agreed half way location. If they’re prepared to send you the tortoise by courier, then their regard for the tortoise’s wellbeing isn’t up to par and they should be given a wide berth.
The word dealers does tend to come loaded with connotations of slightly underhand behaviour, and indeed when it comes to the lucrative world of tortoise trading this is unfortunately all too often the case.
Dealers may claim to be breeders, and it on the surface it can be difficult to prove otherwise. However if they don’t seem to be particularly knowledgeable or enthusiastic on the subject, or too concerned about the home you’ll be providing for the tortoise then they probably aren’t the legitimate seller they claim to be.
Above all else though, if they try and sell you an Annexe A tortoise without an ‘Article 10’ document (see below), then they’re flat out breaking the law. If you come across such a dealer and you live in the UK it would be prudent to make contact with the government Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to let them know:
General Enquiries Tel: 0117 372 8168 – Fax: 0117 372 8206 – E-mail: [email protected]
In my experience pet shops generally handle their affairs legally, although in some cases they can be pretty hit and miss with the due diligence they carry out when assessing customers, being more concerned about making sales than the welfare of the animals they sell.
The other issue with pet shops is that they tend to source their tortoises from countries in southern or central Europe. Whilst this is certainly legal you have far less guarantees about how ethically the tortoises may have been sourced and transported over to the UK, than you do with a breeder. The Article 10 document supplied with the animal, offers some reassurance but is no guarantee of ethical behaviour throughout the entire process of sourcing your tortoise to the point of delivery.
Article 10 Document
Wherever you decide to buy your tortoise from, for many common breeds they should come complete with what’s known as an ‘Article 10’ certificate. This document is a legal requirement for anyone selling a tortoise, but not for giving one away for free or as a gift. So be warned, if you do happen to lose this and your circumstances later dictate that you can no longer look after your tortoise, you won’t legally be able to sell him/her.
In terms of what the Article 10 certificate indicates, as far as I can see it tells you nothing about the health of the tortoise, and simply describes the name of the species, its country of origin, the process of origin (ie. Legally extracted from the wild, bred in captivity etc.), and the name of the issuing authority. It does however indicate that the tortoise has been microchipped, which can be cross referenced in the event of a sale.
The most common breeds kept in captivity that fall under Article 10 legislation are:
- Hermanns tortoise (testudohermanni)
- Spur thigh tortoises, graeca and ibera
(testudo graeca graeca and testudo graeca ibera)
- Marginated (testudo marginata)
- Pancake tortoise(malacochersus tornieri)
- Tunisian tortoise(furculachelys nabeulensis)
- Egyptian tortoise (testudokleinmanni)
Other common pet species such as the Red Footed, Indian Star, and Leopard tortoises are not included under the Article 10 legislation, so when looking to buy these breeds it can be even more difficult to determine whether or not they have been bred or sourced responsibly. Therefore I would recommend sticking strictly to UK based breeders for these breeds.
Questions to Ask Prospective Sellers
Regardless of where you ultimately buy your tortoise from, you’ll still want to double check you’re being sold a healthy specimen even if you know they’ve been bred and raised humanely. You’ll also want to take on board any advice you can to optimise your tortoise table/vivarium and set up at home, even if it ticks all the essential boxes the seller requires from you.
Questions to ask include:
- Has the tortoise been bred in an environment so as to minimise the potential for parasitic infections, such as worms, and the ultimately lethal herpes virus?
- Are their any specific requirements for housing the tortoise, for example, is it old enough to be kept outside, and does it require a higher does of UV light or humidity than you’ve prepared for at home?
- Are their any specific requirements in terms of diet that you should be aware of, what specific potion size should a tortoise of the size in question be provided with?
- Are you happy to be contacted in future should I have any concerns about the health or wellbeing of the tortoise?
- Are you able to provide a schedule for managing, feeding, and cleaning the tortoise, also known as ‘care sheets’?
- (If buying from a breeder) can I see photographs of the environment your tortoises are bred and kept prior to being sold
How Much Can I Expect to Pay a Reputable Seller For my Tortoise?
Paying the right amount for your tortoise shouldn’t be something you need to worry about too much if you’re buying through a reputable breeder or pet shop. None the less it is worth having an idea of what you can expect to pay in advance, if nothing else so that you know you can afford it!
The general rule first and foremost is that Tortoises, like wine, get more expensive with age. Therefore hatchlings can cost as little as £50, whereas older specimens of certain breeds can cost anything up to £1000.
My particular breed of choice, the Hermann’s tortoise costs roughly £50-£75 as a hatchling, or juvenile under a year old, whereas older specimens over 10 years old can fetch up to £500 or more.
For comparison, one of the most expensive breeds on the market is the Indian Star tortoise, these are about £180 for a hatchling or juvenile, and up to £1000 for older specimens.
Incidentally Indian Star Tortoises also happen to be notoriously difficult to look after and keep healthy, so bear this in mind as well!
Really the takeaway here is that the cost of buying your tortoise doesn’t need to be particularly high, just as long as you’re in it for the long term, which is the best way with tortoises. They live for a long time, and embracing the long term companionship they offer is one of the most appealing things about tortoises.