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Beginners' Advice Urgently Needed. Help!
Posted: 24/11/2015 by Peggity


I wonder if someone could help me.

I have been given a baby dessert tortoise as a Christmas gift and, whilst this is a very generous thought, I am concerned that the habitat I have been given to keep him/her in is not right. (I do not know the sex until my sister receives the information from his/her microchip by post; all I know is that it is a dessert tortoise and was hatched in July).

My tortoise was purchased yesterday from a garden center and is in a large glass vivarium (with glass around the sides and a mesh roof) on top of a large cabinet (about fish-tank height), and I'm really worried as it is advised on this site not to purchase a tortoise from a garden center or put it in a large glass home with a heat mat, which mine has! We have put the little guy/girl in our living room, but it is rather cold in there and the temperature of the thermometers (placed both side of the vivarium) more or less stays the same either side (just around/over 20 degrees celsius), and I am concerned it is not warm enough. The vivairum has glass sliding doors at the front, but I don't know whether to remove the roof and cover the sides and put him/her on the floor somewhere?

I am also unsure whether to move the baby tortoise to my bedroom, but am worried it may be too hot in there. However I am unsure if it is best to have him/her warmer than colder? We have a cat so if I need to remove the roof of the vivarium then the only safe place for him is my bedroom.

The vivarium has come with a day-spot lamp, but this is in the corner and tilted downwards, but I don't know whether to turn this off (as it seems rather bright) and let him/her adjust to the natural day/night light of the room. I will be able to take the tortoise outside in the summer, but I'm unable to home him outside so he/she will have to be cared for indoors.

I have also been given pellets and a vitamin supplement to put on his/her food, but I've read that baby tortoises struggle to eat these!

Please could anyone advise me on what I should do to ensure my tortoise is safe? I am happy to read up on how to properly care for him/her and would feel awful if I am doing everything wrong from day one! (Although my sister and mother were going on advice from the reptile staff member in the garden center, I'd hate for them to have been given incorrect advice from the start and my tortoise suffer neglect because of it).

I also need advice on whether to let my baby tortoise hibernate. I have been advised to keep holding him/her each day to prevent him from hibernation, but is this hazardous to his/her health? And because he/she is only a few months old would it be beneficial to skip hibernation this winter and allow him/her to hibernate next winter once I know more about him/her?

Any help would be much appreciated! Also, if any guides/books could be recommended this would also be great.

Kindest regards,

Lisa x

Re: Beginners' Advice Urgently Needed. Help!
Posted: 24/11/2015 by Tom

Hello Lisa,

You have been put in an unenviable position.
The advice given by the garden centre is useless - scandalous !
They have an obligation to tell you which species it is - immediately, that is in the morning.

"Desert" torts are not imported into the UK., from memory I think that all species are 'protected'.  Are you based in America ?

The garden centre has given stupid advice & your mother has been persuaded to buy unsuitable equipment, for an unknown species. This is MIS-SELLING & if you are in the UK she is entitled in LAW to a full refund. 
This is the best option, particularly as you've stated that you are unable to keep it outside (in Summer).

Let me know please as soon as you know the answer to the above, together with details of the garden centre.


Re: Beginners' Advice Urgently Needed. Help!
Posted: 25/11/2015 by Peggity

Hi Tom,

I am in the UK, and we went back to the garden center yesterday (this is in Downtown in Grantham) and was told that the breed of my tortoise is a Marginated tortoise and was given a certificate for him/her (I have looked up pictures of this species and this does look like the little guy/gal we have got). The reptile expert at the garden center (although he specializes more in lizards and snakes) stated that the tortoise should be fine in the glass vivarium (as he has been born/brought up in one), as long as we place him in a sunnier room. We do have a dining room that is more glass (windows and a patio door) outlining it so plenty of sun does shine through.

Does this change things? At the moment we've got him/her in the living room (which doesn't get any sun), but I am happy to move him/her immediately if this will instantly help. He/she is currently in the vivarium with a heat mat on the outside and basking lamp on the inside (basically two heat sources, but I'm aware that he/she needs UV rays to help with their shells).

I know it sounds silly, but the thought of returning him/her to the garden center really troubles me, as I don't think he/she is going to get a better quality of life there and they are in similar glass tanks. My mum and I have collected fresh dandelion leaves for him/her to feed on, so I'm hoping this will help with the food part of things.

I'm just a bit lost at the moment. Any advice you could give me will be great. If I can provide a home for him/her I'd be very pleased. I don't like seeing animals brought up in tiny tanks (the one my mum has purchased for our house is quite large) and I'd hate the thought of him/her going back to an even smaller home where they cannot be cared for 24/7. If the dining room is the best place for him/her then I don't think I'll be able to replace the glass vivarium because of the cat (the cat is older but still spritely at 12 years old). I will be able to take him/her out in the summer and may be able to build/provide some suitable housing outside if need be. Anything to give him/her a nicer life, really!

If there's any way I can contact you, Tom, for a proper chat, please let me know. It would be so helpful and would really put my mind at ease. My home e-mail is

All the best,

Lisa x

Re: Beginners' Advice Urgently Needed. Help!
Posted: 25/11/2015 by Peggity

Hi Tom,

I also forgot to say that, if you have any recommendations for vets/experts in my area (Newark, Nottinghamshire), that would be most helpful. But if I could get advice from you directly that would be a huge help.

Lisa x

Re: Beginners' Advice Urgently Needed. Help!
Posted: 26/11/2015 by Tom

Marginated are not "desert" torts as you had been told.

Are you saying the tort. was sold without an A10 Cert. initially. Can you post a copy of it please ?

You refer to the "reptile expert" - he is not. They should not be kept in vivaria. it has been mis-sold & you are entitled to a refund. This is what comes of impulse buying.

Marginata are not a bad species for the UK, but there are risks with Pet Trade specimens.

All of the info you need is on the TPG site Lisa, start by clicking on "The Tortoise."


ps You had stated that it couldn't be kept outside, but it now seems you have a garden - good. It will need an enclosure of at least 15sqm as an adult, or sub- adult.

Re: Beginners' Advice Urgently Needed. Help!
Posted: 27/11/2015 by Peggity

Hi Tom,

Apologies for the mix up about the species (this is what my mum was told when she first initially went). She was told the certificate would be sent separately, but my sister collected this when we went to Downtown (she currently has it but I will get a copy for you as soon as possible).

My mum is concerned also because she's now seen online about the vivariums being unsuitable, but because he/she was kept in a tiny glass tank with two other juveniles we really do not wish to return him to the garden centre. We have moved the vivarium into the dining room (where it is sunny) and have order a UV light for this. We have also stopped giving him/her pellets immediately. Unfortunately, due to the cat, we cannot change his accommodation yet. Will he be okay in the vivarium just until we research proper housing? I know we're not experts, but we are reading up as much as we can and the thought of sending him/her back is upsetting to us.

We do have a garden, so in the summer I can try to accommodate him/her outside. Because I don't know much about him/her yet, we are reading up on 'over-wintering' him/her as we don't want to risk hibernation with him/her being so young. The care sheets are very helpful ... do you have a link/care sheet on 'over-wintering' the tortoise?

All your help is much appreciated, Tom. The housing is still a worry but we are doing as much as we can to fix this.

All the best,

Lisa x

Re: Beginners' Advice Urgently Needed. Help!
Posted: 27/11/2015 by Tom

I stated that marginata are ok for the UK Lisa, 'though there is always risk with pet trade specimens.

The best way ahead is to get a large indoor rabbit cage, be sure to buy it from a pet shop which does NOT sell animals. You can suspend a 100W "Megaray" UVB bulb (in a dome reflector) at one end, to create a temp. gradient.
Again the idiot at the shop has given stupid advice in advising you to put the viv in a sunny room. Whilst perhaps not a problem in winter, in summer, sunlight onto a viv causes overheating & can lead to the death of the occupant.

The sympathy of well meaning people 'rescuing' animals sustains the pet trade in tortoises today as it did in the past. 

You will find a Caresheet for hatchlings in "The Tortoise" box.
I'm assuming that it is no more than about a year old (?)
When it's age is known [on A10 Cert] it's outside enclosure can be considered.


Re: Beginners' Advice Urgently Needed. Help!
Posted: 09/12/2015 by Peggity

Hi Tom,

I will speak to mum about the rabbit cage. She paid a fortune for this vivarium and we still have the cat to consider, but we can probably purchase a rabbit cage and hopefully replace it. The vivarium is in the sunnier room at the moment, but fortunately the sun is not that strong and we can close the blinds. I think come summer we may have to rethink what we do with the little girl/guy.

We were told he/she was hatched sometime in July/August, so will he/she still be classed as a hatchling? (I read they were classed as a juvenile after so many months).

My only concern now is that he/she doesn't seem to be drinking much (but does tend to eat wet dandelion leaves daily). We're bathing him/her daily but I'm still at a loss as to what else I can do. Re-homing may have to be an option.

Lisa x 

Re: Beginners' Advice Urgently Needed. Help!
Posted: 10/12/2015 by Peggity

Sorry to keep bothering you with questions, but my mum and I spent hours late last night looking into rabbit cages / tortoise tables adequate for indoors.

There is a website (happytortoisehabitat, I believe it was called) that custom make tortoise tables with lids (with wire/large mesh) on top. Would we be able to use a tortoise table with a lid and have the lamp shine through that? We can take the lid off whenever anyone is at home, but with the cat would have to ensure he couldn't get to the little guy/girl whenever anyone is out.

Thanks again for all your advice thus far.

Lisa x


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