Be Open to Change, Question Sources, and Ask Questions

I see a lot of people say, “Well, I heard (insert bad tortoise advice here). If that’s not true, then why did I hear it/see it online?”
There is a TON of bad tort info out there. It continues to spread for a lot of reasons. Sometimes pet stores lie to sell torts. Sometimes a person had a tort 40 years ago and followed the recommendations of the time and didn’t realize that some recommendations may have changed (we know a lot more about tort care now than we did in the past, and there is a good chance we will learn even more in the future). Sometimes people make really nice looking websites but then fill it with a bunch of bad info either because they don’t know better, or because they didn’t update their site when recommendations changed, or because they’re trying to sell you something you don’t actually need, etc. Don’t forget that anyone can make a website. Anyone can make a facebook group too. I was in one tort facebook group. Their Russian care sheet recommended feeding them carrots. It recommended the water dish that’s called “the death trap.” And, under examples of good enclosures, it showed three Russians in an enclosure (and eating grape tomatoes nonetheless) that didn’t even look big enough for one Russian. When I pointed out those issues this morning, I was removed and banned from the group. I’m assuming that my post was deleted too. The owner of that group would rather put your torts at risk than have someone tell her she’s wrong.
So, with tortoise information, keep a bit of an open mind. Don’t assume you know everything, or that the person who gave you information knew everything, or that everyone else is wrong, or that the current recommendations can/will never change. Keep an open enough mind that, if anything does change or if anything you heard before is actually wrong, you won’t be so stuck in your ways that you won’t believe it. Don’t get caught in the, “Well, I’ve been doing it this way, and my tortoise isn’t dead yet, so it must ok,” trap! Torts have such long lives that sometimes when something is bad for them, you might not see the ill effects for years, or even decades. So incorrect tort care is a lot like smoking. You’re not going to drop dead after your first cigarette, or even after your 100th. But that doesn’t mean that cigarettes are good for you or that your life isn’t being shortened as a result. So a live tort doesn’t prove that a person is doing everything right just like a live smoker doesn’t prove that smoking is good for us.
But be skeptical too. Anyone can say anything, especially online or if they’re trying to sell you something! Anyone can have a website or can run a facebook group. So be open to learning new things, but be smart about it. Look for other sources. Ask for second opinions.
And, seriously, ask those questions. I hear so many people say, “I wanted to ask a question, but I was too afraid of getting my head bitten off.” I’m a sensitive person (like REALLY sensitive), so for me (and people like me), it can be really difficult to hear someone say, “Hey, your care sheet is wrong,” or “Hey, you’re taking care of your tortoise all wrong.” But you know what? I’d rather have my feelings hurt than put my tort (or anyone else’s tort) in danger. If I’m doing something that’s going to hurt him, I want to know ASAP. If you ask a question and someone gives you a snarky response for not knowing it, either ignore the snarkiness and take it for what it is (someone who’s really passionate about tort care and gets frustrated and didn’t express themselves well as a result) or let an admin know. But never let your fear of hurt feelings endanger your torts.

Turdy, Wild Caught Tortoises, and Where To Get Your Tort

We got Turdy in mid June 2015. We didn’t know much about tortoises in general when we got him, and we didn’t know much about him in particular. All we knew was that he’s an adult male Russian tortoise who was wild caught and then sold in an exotic pet shop.

10484362_10153565055678072_9086885077360761960_oAfter we got him we did a ton of research (kind of a backwards way to do it, but that’s what we did) and started talking to a lot of other tort owners and to tort breeders. In talking to other people we learned that Turdy has a great personality (a lot of torts just hiss and hide when you pick them up). We learned that Turdy has a great appetite (a lot of torts are picky eaters and go on a hunger strike for weeks, especially when first brought home). And we learned that you should never buy a wild caught tortoise.

People catch wild tortoises. They stuff them in their shell and tape them up so that they can’t come out, or move, or even breathe easily. Then they pile them, by the hundreds or by the thousands, onto a boat. They have no food, water, sun, or heat lamps during their journey. Then the ones who survive the journey (most do not) are unloaded and sold to pet stores for profit. It’s a very cruel business, and when we buy wild caught tortoises we’re paying those people. We’re making what they do profitable. We’re encouraging them to keep doing it.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, a lot of the pet stores who buy these torts don’t really know how to care for them. They are often fed the wrong foods, kept in enclosures that are much too small, kept in groups (which can lead to fighting and some really serious injuries not to mention the spread of disease), kept at the wrong temperatures, etc. After their long, stressful, and unhealthy journey, being kept in subpar conditions, even just for a short time, can do even more harm. And, to make matters worse, people who want a tort but don’t know much about them often take advice from the pet shops. Then they go home with their new tort thinking they know how to properly care for him and therefore don’t bother to do any research. That can lead to torts dying soon after being bought, torts needing expensive vet care soon after being bought, or torts being given improper and unhealthy care for years or even decades.

Pet stores also often lie about tort ages. It’s impossible to tell a wild caught tortoise’s age. All anyone can say for sure is that they’re at least a few years old. But pet stores know that everyone wants a young pet. So they often lie and say their adult wild caught tortoises are somewhere between six months and two years old. They’re usually more like 10+.

So after learning all that, we decided we better get Turdy right in to the vet. That’s when we found out the he has a parasite. Parasites are common enough. They’re pretty much a guarantee with wild caught tortoises. What was unusual about Turdy’s parasite is that the exotic animal lab had literally never seen it before. They still don’t even know what it is. They’re calling it a “parasite of unknown significance” at this point and are just hoping that it doesn’t do him any harm. He also needed antibiotics twice a week for six weeks at $12 per dose. And we were some of the lucky ones.

So if you’re looking to get a tortoise, look for a captive bred tortoise, a rescue, or a tortoise that needs rehoming.

If you get a captive bred tortoise from the breeder, you won’t be lining the pockets of anyone who’s involved in the cruel wild caught industry, you will have a better idea of the tortoise’s age, your tortoise is more likely to be healthy, and you are more likely to get good information about how to care for your tortoise. If you want to find a breeder, you can search on tortoise forums or tortoise facebook groups.

If you get a tortoise from a rescue, you won’t be lining the pockets of anyone who’s involved in the cruel wild caught industry, you will be doing a good deed, and you will most likely get good care information from the rescue. You can look on for torts in rescues near you or ask for rescue recommendations on forums or tortoise facebook groups.

If you get a tortoise that needs rehoming it’s a bit more of a gamble, but you won’t be lining the pockets of anyone who’s involved in the cruel wild caught industry and you’re doing a good deed. You can look for torts that need a new home on craigslist, forums, or tortoise facebook groups.

Wherever you get your tort from, join the tort forums and facebook groups. They’re a great source of information and advice. If/when you get to the point where you no longer need advice, you can help give it to the other new tort owners so that you can help their tortoise get the best care that it possibly can!