TPG History

Tortoise keeping has long been popular in the UK, and it is estimated that between the years 1969-1972 approximately 480,000 spur-thighed tortoises were imported into Britain.  A report compiled by TRAFFIC International for DEFRA (2002) demonstrated that there has been a growing interest in the keeping of tortoises in the UK over several decades.  In addition to this there has also been evidence of smuggling and illegal trade in tortoises to meet the increased desire of people to own tortoises. 

 "A European import ban on wild-caught Mediterranean tortoises came into force in 1984, with only captive bred or pre ban tortoises allowed to be traded.  This ban caused an increase in trade in African and Eurasian tortoise species into Europe instead.  With this shifting of pressure to new species in trade came the need for protection of a wider range of tortoises.  As a result, in February 1999, wild-caught specimens of a further 18 species were banned from import into the EU.  Only captive-bred tortoises or those imported before the ban of these 18 species are now allowed in commercial trade."
      TRAFFIC International for DEFRA (2002)

Despite the 1984 ban there has continued to be a continuous supply of illegal wild-caught tortoises which often come into the UK from Mediterranean countries such as Turkey, Tunisia and Morocco.  Since Slovenia joined the EU in May 2004, numbers of imports have increased again and we feel that this trade has been allowed to escalate out of control, with DEFRA-certified tortoises entering the UK by the thousands just to line the pockets of unscrupulous dealers.  It is difficult to estimate accurately the number of tortoise imports into Britain, both legal and illegal, but the investigation by TRAFFIC International (2002) revealed that over 15,000 live tortoises have been imported directly into Britain from outside the EU between the years 1996 and 2002.  In addition to the number of known imports there are also large numbers of tortoises brought into Britain through the EU which do not appear in import statistics, because any movement of animals within the EU is not considered an import.  Often these tortoises are sold by wholesalers to retailers making substantial profits. 

As a result of the removal of internal European Union (EU) trade borders, consignments of tortoises that formerly required permits to be traded between EU countries are now allowed to be transported legally between them without the need for permits.  The TRAFFIC report confirms that illegal tortoise trade is happening in Britain, as it is throughout the EU, as a result of smuggling. The report states that:

 “It is known that tortoises are smuggled into the EU and, once inside, these illegally sourced tortoises are very difficult for enforcement authorities to detect as there are no internal border checks inside the EU. Tortoises can therefore pass freely from one EU member state to another. Much of the trade in tortoises to Britain comes from within the EU in this way.”
      TRAFFIC International for DEFRA (2002)

Many, if not all the tortoises are wild caught or captive farmed and their eggs taken to be incubated, where once hatched they are imported into the UK and sold on at inflated prices to satisfy the pet trade, and many of these pet shops and garden centres are unaware of what they are selling or where the species originate from.  Most are certified captive bred!  Tortoises are also sold in Britain in some DIY stores and through classified advertisements in specialist magazines and local newspapers.
The Shellshock campaign of 2004/2005 followed on the heels of the TRAFFIC Report for DEFRA (2002) and this campaign was the main incentive for the Tortoise Protection Group initiative and launch on 5th January 2007.   The campaign partly involved the raising of public awareness of the threats which are faced by many species of tortoise to their continued survival in the wild.  This is in the main due to unnatural plundering, egg collection and for their demand as a food source.  The campaign also highlighted the fact that endangered, and therefore protected, species are still being illegally caught for the pet trade too (Shellshock, the EAZA Turtle and Tortoise Campaign 2004/2005).

It was from this that the Tortoise Protection group formulated aims with the focus being to campaign for a ban on the importation of tortoises into the UK for the commercial pet trade.  The Tortoise Protection Group encourages people in the UK to buy tortoises which have been bred in the UK, and we are currently compiling a list of reputable breeders as an alternative to buying an imported tortoise from a pet shop.  At present, although the number of tortoise breeders is increasing, the supply of UK captive-bred tortoises is still not at a sufficient level to meet current demand that normally would require taking animals from the wild.   As a result of this low level of legal supply, an opportunity is created for unscrupulous dealers to trade in illegal wild-caught tortoises. 

The Tortoise Protection Group aims to inform the general public of the licensing requirements which we believe will help stop the illegal trade continuing and hopefully reduce the taking of tortoises from their natural environment and thus depleting the number of tortoises in the wild.  We wish to encourage DEFRA to work more closely with the wholesalers and retailers and the general public to tighten up the licensing regulations and to ensure that those that continue to illegally trade in tortoises are prosecuted. 

By drawing on our own expertise, that of other experienced tortoise keepers, and from current research findings, we hope to provide an education service to the general public on all aspects of tortoise keeping and breeding.  We are able to do this through the medium of our website and tortoise internet forums.  As far as possible we will actively engage in speaking at tortoise society meetings and other such public venues to widen the knowledge of tortoise husbandry.

By adopting these positive approaches in the UK the future for some tortoises in their natural environment will be much longer than that currently experienced.  It is hoped that other countries will also consider adopting strategies similar to ours.



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