Tortoises are very long-lived, sturdy, and reasonably easy to maintain. They are not an ideal pet to keep indoors, and not a pet that is played with, cuddled, picked up (if you can) or touched very often. There are many enthusiasts who believe Tortoises would be perfectly content with no social interaction, as they are not very social animals. Tortoises do best where they get plenty of sunshine and fresh air. Some tortoises are shy and reclusive, while others are charismatic, inquisitive, and have a cute personality. All tortoises are quiet (you won’t hear them barking at 2am), curious and can show quirky behavior. The key to success with keeping your tortoise happy and healthy is to follow these guidelines as laid out on this site. For more information please read through the breeds of Tortoises to find on that may be suitable for you and your climate.
- There are a number of species of tortoise kept as pets. In the reptilian pet trade, the tortoise types which are most seen are generally those that are the easiest to breed and take care of. These are:
- Sulcata Tortoise (Geochelone sulcata)
- Red-footed Tortoise (Geochelone carbonaria)
- Greek Tortoise (Testudo graeca)
- Russian Tortoise (Testudo horsfieldii)
- Yellow-footed Tortoise (Geochelone denticulata)
- Leopard Tortoise (Geochelone pardalis)
- Each type of tortoise has its own special habitat and diet, as well as other needs. I’ve listed some very general guidelines, please see each tortoise’s page for more detailed information. It is also recommended to read additional detailed information on the particular type of tortoise they own. There are plenty of sites on the Internet which are dedicated to each breed of Tortoise.
- It is strongly recommended you consider purchasing a captivity-bread tortoise, NOT purchasing an old one for your first tortoise. 4/5 Tortoises die their first year from owner’s not being able to correctly handle their environment. By getting it as a baby it will be small and easier to keep in a terrarium or enclosure to make sure you provide it with optimal conditions. Rescuing an old tortoise is highly encouraged for anyone who has proven their ability to raise a baby tortoise.
- The sex of a large mature tortoise can usually be determined by unique physical characteristics. Male tortoises generally have a concavity on the plastron (bottom shell). The male’s tail is longer than the female’s, sometimes points out to one side, and his vent is located down towards the tip of his tail.
- Tortoises can live anywhere between 40-260 years. Yes that is no typo, the longest-living tortoise was named Adwaita and was estimated to be 255 years old at the time of death. When considering a pet tortoise, please keep in mind it is a great possibility you may need to pass your animal along to your kids or other relatives/friends when you become too old to care for it any longer.
It is VERY important to quarantine all new tortoises from existing pets and other animals for at least 18 months. Your pets or other animals may be carrying a range of parasitic, bacterial, and viral diseases that may not show up in your tortoise for some time. Some parasites can lay dormant for many years before spreading. It is also very important not to keep different species together in the same habitat or enclosure. Different species will have different environmental and food needs, and may also exhibit fiercely competitive behaviors, meaning its quite possible they will fight with each other. Some species will snap/bite and ‘ram’ each other (meaning they smash their heads into each other) quite violently, while others do not. This will not only result in serious stress for each of the animals but also may cause very threatening injuries or infection. Fatalities have been recorded from this behavior. It is definitely the best option to keep different species of tortoise completely separate. Two males put together may violently fight. Exposing older female tortoises to younger, fertile males is also not recommended as they can become aggressive.
Mediterranean tortoises normally hibernate in the wild. They can do so in captivity (with some exceptions). Examples from certain areas (such as Tunisia and Libya) do not hibernate but instead remain active throughout the winter. These tortoises need to be over-wintered in warm and bright indoor habitats. Hibernation is quite a complex subject in its own right, and the Tortoise Trust has produced a completely separate free guide on the topic which is available on request. Extensive and up-to-date advice is also freely available on the Tortoise Trust website covering all the different methods of managing hibernation, preparation for hibernation, emergence from hibernation, and the hibernation of juveniles. We advise you to consult these resources for further information as space limitations preclude a sufficiently detailed discussion here. Even the best kept tortoises may suffer from health problems from time to time, so it is very important that you locate a veterinary surgeon who has a particular interest in, and experience of diagnosing and treating tortoises and turtles. Most tortoise organizations maintain lists of vets recommended by their members. By belonging to a tortoise organization you will not only remain informed of the latest developments in husbandry, but will also be able to share experiences and advice with fellow enthusiasts.