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Why you should only buy a captive bred tortoise

There are two very good reasons to make sure that you only buy a genuine captive-bred tortoise rather than an imported tortoise -

i) depletion of wild populations and

ii) the risk of acquisition of viral, bacterial and parasite infections during importation, which will affect the health of your 'new' tortoise and may even kill it.

1. It is a sad fact that even in this day and age some species of tortoises are still being collected from the wild and offered for sale - perfectly legally - in shops and on the internet.

Notable among the 'wild-caught' tortoise species are the Russian or Horsfield's Tortoise which are imported into this country in their hundreds from countries such as Kazakhstan and other former U.S.S.R. territories. This is depleting wild stocks at an alarming rate and will ultimately render them an endangered species. Likewise imported Hermanns tortoises are widely available with Article 10 exemption Certificates stating Slovenia as the country of origin.

The Tortoise Trust recently suggested that these are wild-caught animals accompanied by Article 10 exemption certificates which have been issued without question by their country of origin (article titled CAPTIVE BRED OR ILLEGAL IMPORT? - UK TORTOISE BUYERS NEED TO BEWARE can be accessed via the following link http://www.tortoisetrust.org/articles/imports.html).

This is clearly a concern and should be considered unacceptable by the government and potential purchasers of tortoises alike, and if true is decimating wild populations at an unsustainable rate. The Hermanns Tortoise is supposed to be protected by its' CITES listing - the current situation makes a mockery of this.

Ask your local reptile shop where their tortoises originated, then ask them to show you proof of where they have come from - you will be surprised by how few will be selling UK-bred animals. Remember Hermanns tortoises will be supplied with a yellow Article 10 exemption certificate which will state the animal's country of origin - ask to see this before you consider buying.

Virtually all shop-sold Horsfield's Tortoises are wild-caught (especially the larger ones) even if this is a situation that is currently legal, so it is unlikely that a shop will be able to tell you their country of origin - but be very sceptical if anyone tells you that a large, smooth-shelled Horsfield's Tortoise was bred in the UK!

It is important for the survival of many tortoise species therefore to ensure that you buy only genuine captive-bred tortoises and that you check carefully and ask for documentary evidence from the seller to verify that this really is true before you buy.

It is very easy for someone to say a tortoise is captive-bred, it is just as easy to write this on a piece of paper, it is much harder to get them to show you actual documentary evidence such as receipts or import paperwork.

2. The second and very important reason to buy a genuine captive-bred tortoise rather than an imported tortoise is health and life expectancy. Properly reared and correctly cared for captive-bred tortoises are 100% healthy and do not carry infectious bacteria or viruses that could adversely affect their health and which could be a threat to the health of any other tortoises you already own.

Under the less than ideal conditions they have to endure during transportation and importation, shipments of tortoises may become dehydrated, chilled and stressed which enables bacterial and viral infections to take a hold. These pathogens may be from other tortoises (often from completely different and incompatible species) or from other reptiles such as lizards, snakes and even amphibians in the same shipment or warehouse.

I know people who have purchased imported (from 'breeders' on mainland Europe) Indian Star Tortoises which have subsequently developed RNS (runny-nose syndrome) requiring veterinary treatment and despite this several actually died. I also know of a case where the imported tortoise carried what the local vet described as 'the worst case of intestinal worms he had ever seen'.

Slovenian-sourced Hermanns Tortoises seem prone to eye problems and often carry heavy worm infestation or may experience breathing problems, and shipments have come into the country carrying viruses which have actually killed both themselves and other species of tortoise with which they have come into contact. This would suggest poor hygiene and cramped, incorrect or inhumane storage and transportation conditions during their importation, not to mention raising questions as to their 'captive-bred' origin.

Many tortoise species should be housed separately - if you ever see tropical tortoises (such as Redfoot, Leopard, Sulcata or Indian Star) housed together or with Hermanns or Horsfield's Tortoises, or even Hermanns and Horsfield's together you are advised not to buy - there is a severe risk of viral or bacterial cross-infection from one species to the other, and potential for subsequent development of serious illness in this situation.

Whilst imported tortoises may appear healthy at the time of purchase it is often not until some months later that serious health problems arise by which time you will have no comeback on the seller.

Be warned if you decide to take one home - your next outing could be to the vet's!

PEACE OF MIND

None of my tortoises have ever had these problems, nor are they likely to develop them.

I give all my tortoises the best possible care I can. All my adults have names and will feed from my fingers. My breeding groups are well-established and their health scrutinised by myself regularly. They have the free-run of my garden and are fed on as many wild-picked plants as I can find, and supplemented with calcium - particularly my egg-laying females.

They are weighed regularly and wormed annually.

I do not buy and then sell animals on - all my animals are genuinely bred by myself and I always encourage you - if possible - to visit, choose your tortoise and view its' parents and their housing. I supply a comprehensive care-sheet for each species written from personal experience and I make sure that you have all the information - and equipment - that you need to keep one of my tortoises healthy and happy.

You are welcome to keep in contact by phone or e-mail if subsequently you feel you have any concerns or additional questions. I have always had excellent feedback and I never sell any animal that I am not 100% happy with.

The choice of where to buy your tortoise from is yours - but at least you know that there is an ethical choice that you can make that will ensure that you acquire a healthy tortoise and that promotes the long-term survival of tortoise species in the wild.