Safety and Security

The safety and security of our tortoises and their enclosures are important considerations, but are often overlooked by tortoise keepers.  The worry of a tortoise escaping is an obvious one, but there are many other potential hazards to be taken into account.

Indoor and Outdoor Enclosures

Heating and Lighting

We keep our tortoises outdoors as much as possible, but due to the variable weather and low UV levels here in the UK, we do have to rely on artificial basking and UVB sources.  These lights are often on for extended periods of time.  When using UVB and basking lights, the following should be taken into consideration:-

  • Always use the correctly rated holder for the light.  Most of the lights we use are 100w 160w or higher, these lights all become extremely hot during use.  These should all be used with a ceramic holder; a plastic one could melt and cause a fire.
  • Check the correct fuse is in the plug.
  • Using a shade or reflector with the lights has two benefits – the UVB and heat are directed down towards the tortoise making the lamp much more efficient, and if the enclosure is in a room within the house which is used regularly, this will also help protect your eyes from the UV light emitted by the lamp.  Again however, ensure that the shade/reflector you are using is correctly rated for the bulb.
  • Check that the lamp is in the correct position and that the temperature under it is not excessive.
  • Ensure that sockets are not overloaded.  Avoid using extension leads if possible, but if you are, check carefully that you are not exceeding the recommended loading.
  • Water and electrics do not mix – ensure that water dishes, etc. are nowhere near electrical sources, and avoid water splashed on hot lamps, they can explode.
  • Ensure that any leads are not in a position where they could become trapped, or become trip hazards.
  • Check leads and lamps weekly to ensure that there is no damage, and that leads are not becoming worn.
  • Many of the substrates we use are potentially very flammable.  Check carefully every day to ensure that there is no risk of fire from the substrate coming into contact with, or becoming too hot under the lamps.
  • Ensure any lamps/heat sources are securely fixed, and cannot fall off/be knocked over, potentially causing a fire.
  • Use guards to prevent contact with hot surfaces either by the tortoise or people.
  • Do not place any heat source where the tortoise could come into contact with it.
  • Use an RCD circuit breaker.
  • If you are using electrics to outside enclosures, these should ideally be installed by a qualified electrician.

Indoor Enclosures

Indoor enclosures should be secure from escape – this is especially important if the enclosure is on a raised surface, so ensure that the enclosure is deep enough and that there is no danger of the tortoise climbing out. 

Ensure any bathing/soaking bowl left on a raised surface has high enough sides to prevent escape too. 

Do not place an enclosure directly under a window.  While the tortoise will appreciate as much natural light as possible while he is indoors, the sun coming through a window could rapidly raise the temperature in the enclosure to dangerous levels.  The same applies to conservatories, in particular if these are south facing, as they rapidly turn into ovens which could prove fatal to your tortoise.  If you have other animals in the house, the tortoise should be secure from them too.

Outdoor Enclosures

Check all boundaries on a daily basis for damage or collapse.  These should be high enough to prevent the tortoise climbing over, and as smooth as possible to eliminate any foot holds.  Avoid corners if possible, as tortoises are surprisingly good climbers, and can ‘chimney’ up corners – if you do have them consider placing a ‘lid’ over this area to prevent escape. 

Climbing plants can also prove to be a handy ‘ladder’ for tortoises, so try to avoid climbers over boundary fences or walls!

Russian tortoises are particularly adept at escape attempts, and special care should be taken with their enclosures to ensure that they cannot scale the walls, or tunnel underneath.  You may need to dig out the enclosure, and lay chicken wire or similar, then replace the soil to prevent excavations.  Alternatively, ensure the perimeter fence is buried 8 – 12” below ground as well as high enough above ground to prevent climbing escapes.

All outdoor enclosures must be well drained to prevent flooding in the event of a sudden downpour.  Enclosures containing smaller tortoises must have wire mesh or netting over to keep out crows, magpies etc.  All tortoises must be secure at night as foxes, rats etc. would all find a sleepy tortoise a tasty challenge.

The pet family dog is not generally seen as a threat to the tortoise, however all too often tortoises suffer terrible, and sometimes fatal injuries as a result of dog attacks.  Even the most docile family dog is a potential danger to a tortoise, and dogs and tortoises should never be left alone together.

Tortoises, unlike turtles, are unable to swim.  If you have a garden pond, this should be fenced off or covered over to prevent the tortoise falling in. 

Theft

Unfortunately, this seems to be a growing problem, and all too often we hear of incidents where thieves have entered gardens or outbuildings and stolen tortoises. Gardens and sheds are vulnerable to break-ins, and tortoises are sought after and have some value, all of which make them very attractive to thieves.  The owner may have had the tortoise for a great many years, and to lose a tortoise through theft is heartbreaking, but there are some precautions you can take to protect your tortoise:

  • Do not advertise the fact that you have a tortoise.  Wherever possible, make sure that the tortoise and his housing is not visible from the road or pathways.
    If you have workmen, gardeners, window cleaners etc. visiting your property, make sure that your tortoise is secured away out of sight.
  • Consider fitting a simple CCTV system, or alarm to your shed or greenhouse.
  • If you breed tortoises, be extremely careful who you allow to visit your home to view them.  You may wish to consider meeting any prospective new owner away from your home.
  • Even if your tortoise is microchipped, take good photos of both carapace and plastron, particularly of any distinguishing features i.e. chips in the shell etc.  These will be useful in identifying the tortoise if the need arises.

What to Do if Your Tortoise is Missing

  • If you cannot find your tortoise, before assuming that he has escaped or been stolen, do a very careful search of your garden.  If the weather is very hot, or has been cool and wet, your tortoise may have dug down, and can be surprisingly hard to find.  Check carefully for any areas of recently disturbed earth, Russian tortoises are notorious diggers, but Hermanns, Graecas and other species can also dig into the earth so that the shell is entirely covered.  Check under bushes and plants, especially into the root area, this is another favourite hiding place.  Do a check of the boundaries to check for any ‘break out’ points.  Early on a sunny morning is a good time to find a missing tortoise, as they will often emerge for a quick bask before disappearing again for the day!

If you have done a thorough search with no luck, and suspect that the tortoise has escaped, or been stolen:-

  • Contact the local police and report the matter, also ask to speak to the Local Wildlife Crime Officer and inform him.
  • Contact John Hayward, Securtiy Advisor and Co-ordinator of the National Theft Register:   Tel: 01869 325699 or E-mail: jh@ntr.supanet.com
  • If the tortoise is microchipped, contact the company the details are registered with and report him missing.
  • Contact all local vets and animal rescue centres and ask them to keep a look out, supplying photos if possible.
  • Consider contacting the local press and asking them to run a story – make sure however that they do not publish your address details.
  • Post ‘Missing’ notices on tortoise chat lists or contact us to post pictures of your tortoise on the TPG web site.

Remember, if you are ever offered a tortoise for sale which does not have the required paperwork, the reason may be that it has been stolen.  Never buy a tortoise in these circumstances, and report the matter to the local Wildlife Crime Officer – it is an offence to offer an Annex A tortoise for sale without the relevant Article 10 documentation. 

For a list of tortoises which require Article 10’s see here.

 

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