Having a tortoise for a pet is not something new. This lovable creature has been kept as a pet for hundreds of years. Some species were shipped from Greece, Spain, and other countries to the UK some 40 years ago. However, the move to internationally protect endangered species resulted in a ban on the exportation of certain species.
Species available in the market
That said, there are certain species that you can find on the market. They include:
South American tortoise breeds, including the Red-foot tortoise, or a Yellow Foot Tortoise
Mediterranean Spur-thighed tortoise
African Spurred tortoise
Indian Star tortoise
Having a tortoise for a pet is not an easy task. This creature requires special care and can be relatively expensive. There are cases where a person buys a tortoise for a pet only for the creature to end up dying in their care. This can be frustrating for the owner and unfortunate for the pet. Therefore, if you are considering buying it there are some things that you need to bear in mind.
The Cons of having a tortoise for a pet
First, tortoises, especially small turtles, are carriers of the Salmonella bacteria. This is the reason why the CDC banned the purchase of turtles less than 4–inches long back in 1975. Having turtle as a pet increases the risk of acquiring turtle-associated Salmonellosis.
Secondly, turtles can grow up to be bigger. The problem with species such as the South American ones, Leopard tortoise, and African Spurred species is that they can grow to unmanageable sizes which may be problematic for you.
Moreover, these species have special requirements that you need to take into consideration before making a purchase. For instance, each species has a specific requirement in terms of temperature, space, and humidity. Tortoise species from the tropical or equatorial region do not hibernate. As a consequence, you are required to provide some form of heating, and UV lighting all year round. Also, Red-footed and Yellow-Footed species require some soft fruits in their diet, unlike the Leopard and African Spurred species that prefers grass.
Tortoises need space and security. They require a large cage as they can grow up to 12 inches long. Security is also an issue as your pet may be stolen and sold on the black market. The start-up cost for keeping this pet may range from $600-$1200. Maintaining your pet till it thrives will take another hundred of dollars.
If you opt for a pet tortoise
Pet tortoises are ideal for people above the age of 12 as they are in a better position to take up responsibility for the pet. If you choose to have a tortoise in your home, then choose a species that will suit the environment/climate you are in. They like being outdoors. Therefore, choose one that will be comfortable in the climate you are in. Red-footed and Yellow-footed species do well in the humid Southeastern region of the U.S. Alternatively, the African Spurred and Leopard tortoises do well in dry areas such as the arid southwestern region of the U.S.
Try to learn as much as you can concerning the species you opt for before you make a purchase. For instance, the Mediterranean short-thighed species require a high-fiber, calcium-rich, and low-protein containing diet. Considering that tortoises are exotic species, it may be difficult getting food specially designed for your pet. The Mediterranean breeds that are fed on a cat or dog food run the risk of death due to renal failure or the development of bladder stones.
Tortoises require a clean environment. You need to provide your pet clean water, beddings, and a clean environment. Maintaining this may take you about half-an-hour daily. In addition, they are ectothermic. This means that their body temperature is to a certain extent influenced by the temperature in the environment. As a result, you are required to provide the creature a consistent temperature that is close to its preferred body temperature (PBT). This can be achieved naturally using sunlight, or artificially using heaters. Failure to provide the right temperature can lead to lethargy, poor appetite and digestion, and a poor immune system.
If you opt for this pet, then you need to be financially prepared for the start-up costs and the maintenance costs. Considering that tortoises have a long lifespan, you need to be prepared for the costs of feeding and taking care of your pet. Tortoises and turtles are one of the most abandoned pets in the U.S due to the high-costs and commitment required to care for one. Also, zoos are reluctant to take them in as they are exotic species and require special care. Therefore, it is advisable to think carefully before purchasing it as it is not a decision you can easily change after purchase.
Lastly, you need to bear in mind the issue of hibernation. Some species hibernate for 10-20 weeks. At this time, you need to provide your pet with a proper hibernating environment. Before hibernation, you are required to have a veterinarian conduct a check-up on your pet to ensure that is not unwell.
Having a tortoise for a pet – what it takes?
Unlike cats, dogs, and rabbits, this reptile is not necessarily fond of human beings. They are hard to cuddle with and may only notice you during feeding time. You cannot train them to do tricks, and walking them out on the park is not necessarily a good idea as they may get stolen, eaten by other predators, or might run away. That said, they are fascinating creatures and if properly taken care off, you can find them enjoyable. There are also tortoise owners who claim that in time, with proper trust building, you can be able to cuddle this reptile.
The decision to have this pet or not is entirely best answered by you. If you are willing to take on the costs and provide the creature with proper care, then you will find the tortoise to be an interesting pet to have around. However, if you are not able to properly care for this creature, then you can consider other options in the market. If you are a beginner, then it is advisable to start off with the slider. They are easier to care for and don’t take up much space.
Where to buy them
There are large chain pet stores and specialty stores that contain tortoises, and turtles. The benefit of purchasing one from a pet store is that you get to physically examine it before you make a purchase.
Alternatively, specialty pet stores have a wider variety and can advise you on which species would be conducive to your environment. You can shop for a tortoise in reptile shows and expos. If you opt for this approach, then be sure to ask questions and shop around before choosing the species you want.
Prices in expos can be quite high and competitive. There are also online platforms where dealers, breeders, and individuals sell tortoise breeds. Lastly, there are tortoise rescues that offer adoption. You can consider housing one.
Once you find a tortoise you want to purchase, check for the following:
- The size of the tortoise, including the shape and strength of its limbs depending on the species. They have strong limbs that can push off your finger when you touch one of its limbs.
- Tough shell free of bumps or irregularities.
- Alert, clear eyes, without any discharge.
- The mouth should not have any injuries, discharge, or lumps
- There should be no discharge from the nostrils.
- It should walk correctly, with its shell off the ground and its head stuck out.
- The vents should be clean and free from any redness or bumps.
Set up a home for your tortoise before bringing it home. This will minimize any stress that the creature may feel when being introduced to a new place. It might hide and refuse to eat in the beginning, but once it settles down, normal activities will resume. Good luck!
- Matthew Debanks. The Pet Owners Guide to Turtles: The Complete Guide to a Happy and Healthy Turtle, Fred Quaye, 2012
- Simon Girling. Pet Owner’s Guide to the Tortoise, Interpet, 2003
- Amanda Ebenhack. Red-footed Tortoises in Captivity, BookBaby, 19 Nov 2012