Tortoise Deck



Tortoises: A Different Kind of Pet

Don’t have time to walk the dog! You are allergic to cleaning fish tanks… and cats – mice? Well, they breed too much and selling their babies for snake food is too horrendous for you to contemplate.

Try a tortoise. They make great pets. Their size and diet may present some challenges, but are easily overcome when you understand their needs. That being said, I must point out that there is a golden rule to consider: NEVER take a tortoise from the wild. It is inhumane and simply not cool. Finding one on the side of the road (or anywhere) does not automatically make it your new pet. It will get stressed out and become prone to sickness. It may also have some nasty diseases that you really don’t want to catch. The right thing to do is to immediately release it where it safe from human intervention – away from the road and in the wild.

Now that we have cleared that up, here are some things a pet tortoise will need and you must be able to provide them:

Food Variety

Tortoises need a variety of foods. Careful attention must be paid to the amount of roughage in their diet, as well as the phosphorous/calcium balance. They can eat quite a lot, some species have voracious appetites. There are some tortoises that eat meat as well as wild grasses, but most are herbivores. Avoid iceberg lettuce as it has no value and is not appropriate for your tortoise. Although some vegetables are great food sources, too much wet food can cause digestive problems. What your tortoise eats will depend on the species. Research their dietary needs carefully.


Some tortoise species can be rather big and will need a decent sized enclosure that is preferably outdoors. If your tortoise is of the burrowing kind, then sink your fences and ensure it is secure. These guys are really strong and some of them can climb, which means a roof will be required.

Pens must be safe from predators (including dogs and cats). There should be nothing dangerous inside, such as poisonous plants, sharp objects, or small ones that can accidentally be swallowed. Make sure that there is shallow water only, as tortoises are known to drown if they can’t get out of their water source. Another thing to think about are steps and obstacles that will cause a curious, climbing tortoise to tip over onto its back. This will quickly result in a tragic and untimely death.

A back garden that is completely escape and predator proof, with a heated doghouse works really well too, depending on the climate. If you live in a colder environment, you will need to bring your tortoise in at night (into a safe pen). Big tortoises present a big challenge here, in which case they will need a house of their own with adequate heating and lighting.

Some species hibernate, which is a stressful time for your tortoise and will require special conditions. Again, research this thoroughly before bringing your new pet home.

Finding the Right Tortoise

Only consider captive bred tortoises. For some species this is a challenge, but the appalling capture and shipping conditions means that they should not be an option. It is extremely stressful for them and often results in tragedy. What I strongly suggest is getting your tortoise from a rescue centre. These guys have already been exposed to irresponsible people and need all the help they can get.

If you already have a tortoise or two, then it is a good idea to quarantine the new arrival to ensure it is healthy and parasite-free. Some species can be aggressive, especially when males are confined in a small enclosure. Avoid scenario’s such as this, as fighting between tortoises can result in severe injuries around the eyes, mouth and legs.

Choosing the Right Tortoise Species

I cannot stress the important of correctly choosing the right species. One species can vary dramatically from the next, and what you are able to provide will determine what species is best for you. They have very different sizes, dietary need, housing and environment requirements, temperature and lighting considerations. Then, of course, some hibernate while others do not. Do not choose the prettiest, biggest or smallest tortoise. Choose the one that is appropriate for you and your environment.

Lifespan of your Tortoise

It is very possible that your tortoise might outlive you. They can live anywhere between fifty to a hundred years, and some species even longer. You have to be prepared to provide a lifetime of care, and have a godparent for it. Make provisions for what will happen to your pet if you die first.

Tortoises really do make awesome pets. They are even known to be affectionate when the occasion demands it. Now that you know what to consider when adopting a tortoise, you can plan for its arrival – which will hopefully be soon.


 Story by Mandy