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Garden Centre pet shop
Posted: 12/02/2010 by RussB

Hi to all forum users.


This is my first posting and I apologise now about the length. They won’t all be like this – honest!


Fairly new to tortoises, having only been a tortoise keeper for just over a month. Strictly speaking my wife is the tortoise keeper as they were her birthday present, but we share the duties and I’m completely fascinated. 


Our pair of Marginated hatchlings came from breeders (TPG listed) near Horsham, Sussex, but the idea was initially planted in early December 2009 when my wife noticed tortoises for sale in a local garden centre. At that time we were completely ignorant about tortoise keeping. Now being a bit more educated we realise that the conditions these were being displayed in were totally inappropriate (a small and humid vivarium containing about four juveniles).


Looking at the garden centre’s website more recently they are now offering Hermans and Spur Thighed for sale and they’ve also opened an extended pet supplies shop, expanding on their aquarium business.


I returned there today to see if conditions had changed for the tortoises and to ask some questions.


I found that in one glass fronted vivarium (no more than about 600 x 400mm) there were six baby Hermans on a bark substrate. In another similar vivarium there was one juvenile Horsfield on a sand-like substrate. Neither vivarium had a water bowl and the Hermans had a few bits of cabbage leaf on the ground. They also now have a few lizards and snakes in vivariums for sale (although the snakes were also inside plastic boxes).


I decided to pose as a potential (tortoise ignorant) customer and was directed to the `best person’ (who I’ll refer to as `M’) to speak to about the tortoises.


M advised that the tortoises were not ready for sale yet as they were too small and still waiting on their certificates. M said it was possible to reserve one and that the certificates should arrive in a week or so. M also advised that if I bought one I would need to get it micro-chipped once it reaches a certain size.


I asked where the ones on sale came from and M didn’t know. M did say that they didn’t come from the wild and that it was allowable for tortoises bred in Europe to be sold in the UK. I then asked where `the wild’ was for these tortoises and M said ‘Asia-somewhere’ and clearly didn’t really know.


M recommended orchid bark as the best substrate partly because it’s too large for the tortoise to eat. I mentioned that the Horsfield was on sand and M agreed that a soil based `bedding’ could be used, but that tortoises like to dig and it makes their shells messy – hence M preferred the bark. I noticed that there was one small bag of tortoise substrate on sale which looked to be soil based, the rest was bags of sand and bark chippings.


On feeding M suggested cabbage, lettuce, carrots, weeds (nothing specific), and occasional tomato and fruit. M also suggested dry tortoise pellets (which they sell) for when fresh foods aren’t to hand, and giving of vitamin supplements and possibly cuttlefish bone.


For housing M showed me two vivariums, a wooden one enclosed on all sides and top with sliding glass doors and another with glass sides and a metal mesh top. The suggested size was about 600 x 400mm and M recommended the glass sided version where the lighting and heating could be placed on top of the mesh.


M talked about putting the tortoise outside when it warms-up and then bringing it back indoors through the winter. I asked if it wasn’t possible to hibernate it and M said that it was but not for the first few years, and then only after having taken it to a vet to be weighed and checked that it had eaten sufficient during the summer.


M mentioned a couple of times that they had books on tortoises for sale, but I didn’t check them out as I had no intention of buying.


It’s worrying that they must have sold some tortoises since we first saw them on sale (and possibly before that). Those poor souls don’t stand much chance if this is the kind of advice that’s been given out.


As has been suggested to earlier postings I’ll send the appropriate care sheets to the garden centre, along with a plea that they stop selling, or at least keep them in correct conditions and provide correct advice.


The other major concern has to be – where are they getting these animals from?





Re: Garden Centre pet shop
Posted: 12/02/2010 by Clairestortoise

Hi Russ Welcome! I am fairly new too, I started researching Tortoises back in the summer last year, and didn't get my first Horsfield "Teddy" until Nov, on my birthday too :) I couldn't wait :)I was so excited!! Before I found this site I knew nothing. My local pet store had Tortoises which I would go look at when I bought the cat food etc. They too were in vivs :( I was told things that were incorrect, which at the time I didnt know. Then I came across this site and BOY! was I shocked...Everything I was told was so wrong!! Their advice can be fatal! And they still continue to give out this advice. Since Nov/Dec they have ceased selling Tortoises, I wonder why?! Mmmmm....

I decided that the best thing to do was to purchase my tortoise from a recommended breeder from this site actually, which I did and am very glad I did. I would never want to contribute to the import industry. It's terrible! It's heartbreaking. The are links on the Home page here to videos of conditions of Tortoises being transported and it's not pleasant. You need a strong gut to watch!

You are in the right place for all your questions, regarding anything on Tortoises. I have learned a huge amount and everyone is so friendly too.

And the answer to the last thing you said is...THE WILD!!


Re: Garden Centre pet shop
Posted: 12/02/2010 by RussB

Hi Claire

Thanks for the welcome. Looking around this and other forums it seems that we are some of the lucky few that found the TPG abd TT before getting enticed - although more by luck than judgement in my case. It wasn't until after the fact that I saw that three breeders I had been talking to are on the TPG breeders list.

I did look at some of the links, inclluding some that took me to YouTube where even more horrors await (Chinese market footage being particularly upsetting).

Anyway, my wife Nat has named our new babies Hebe and Thistle and we getting over the worst of our new-parent nerves.




Re: Garden Centre pet shop
Posted: 13/02/2010 by tortoise7

Click and drag me down to the editor Hi Welcome Russ, look forward to learning with you!!

Wow from not knowing much about tortoises you certainly have gained enough knowledge to see how wrong those poor little torts are being kept, well done you! Unfortunately the Pet shops have one objective in business and that is to make money, forget animal welfare. You came to the right site for expanding your knowledge about torts and reporting BAD Petshops/Centres, hopefully with enough people naming the same chain of shops (Off line) we can all contribute in getting something done so that our poor little shelled friends get a good start in life, in the words of someone famous?????? "Education Education Education" it will save so much suffering, so the more we learn the more we can help. It is heartbreaking to see what is happening out there, and all for the greed of money! these issues could easily absorb us if we are not careful, so we have to be our own little advocates for what we come across and keep slowly chipping away. OOPs I better sign off now,Click and drag me down to the editor now where did I put my soapboxClick and drag me down to the editor
Anyway looking forward to seeing piccies of Hebe & Thistle, cute names.
Jane, Keya & Molly

Re: Garden Centre pet shop
Posted: 14/02/2010 by VivTPG

Hi Russ, we hear this story so many times it's heartbreaking.  Its more than likely the torts will have been taken from the wild or bred in 'tortoise farms', Slovinia being one of the most common places, this will be shown on the Certificates (unless the shop change it to their name!).

Could you email one of us off line and give us the name and address of the garden centre we can add it to the list we have compiled (its more than likely to be on there anyway!).  Thanks again, glad your torts have found a good home with you.

Regards Vivienne

Re: Garden Centre pet shop
Posted: 14/02/2010 by RussB

Hi Jane,

I'm possibly suffering a bit from beginners enthusiasm, but hopefully I'll keep doing my bit without overtaking my life too much. I e-mailed Vivian the name of the shop, but who compiles the list and is it available for members to view?

I've had a go at uploading a few photos - failed miserably. Something about a VDB runtime error. I'll have another go tomorrow.


Re: Garden Centre pet shop
Posted: 18/02/2010 by RussB

Let's see if I've has more success by attching photos to this post.


Re: Garden Centre pet shop
Posted: 18/02/2010 by RussB

Oh dear. Photos worked, but the English language has deserted me!


Re: Garden Centre pet shop
Posted: 25/02/2010 by RussB

I’ve been back to the Garden Centre last Sunday and my e-mail to them of last week seems to have had some limited success – that’s unless the TPG or TT have been in contact with them?


The Hermans and the single Horsfield are still in vivariums and on the same substrate as last seen (orchid bark and sand, respectively). The Hermans vivarium did now have a notice on display stating that they `recommend the use of Tortoise Substrate for the longer term’. Reading up on orchid bark, it seems likely that it’s based on pine chippings, which I’m sure I’ve read somewhere can give-off toxic fumes when damp?


Both vivariums now had water bowls and a hide had been added to each. It was disappointing to see that food bowls full of dry tortoise pellets had also been added.


I only saw two of the Hermans – so the other four that were there the previous weekend were either crowded into the hide or had been sold, which would be surprising since last weekend they didn’t even have certificates! Let’s hope that their new owners wise-up sooner rather than later to the incorrect husbandry advice that they have probably been given.


I did take a closer look at the lighting and could see lamps in shades placed on top of a close-mesh top on the vivariums. I assume it was some type of combined Heat/UV lamp, but not too much useful UV will be getting through the mesh down to the tortoises.


I also took the opportunity to look at `the tortoise book’ that they told me they had for sale during my last visit. It turns out to be the very same book that I initially bought (elsewhere) when thinking about getting a tort. It’s the `Pet Owner’s Guide to the Tortoise, by Simon J Girling’. I thought it was a fairly good introduction, although I did later find some slight contradictions with current advice and information on the TPG and TT websites. But importantly, even this book which the Garden Centre sells, contradicts much of the husbandry practice and husbandry advice that they are giving.   


Here are a few quotes from the book:



“Tortoises are best purchased from reputable breeders who are often, by the very nature of their enthusiasm for the species, not professional retailers” and, “The alternative is the purchase of tortoises from less reliable commercial sources, where there is the possibility that the tortoise being sold may be wild-caught rather than captive bred”.



“The traditional vivaria is often an adapted glass or perspex fish tank. These are not ideal for tortoises as the dimensions are all geared towards height rather than floor area, and tortoises, as one would expect, are not best suited to exploring vertical space!”



“For most Mediterranean tortoises the basking area should reach 32-34°C. This temperature should decline from the area of the heat lamp, to reach a cooler temperature of 20-24°C at the other end of the tank”.



The book gives a lengthy list of plant material that is suitable for various species and emphasises that variety is the key to avoiding “over- dependence on one food type which inevitably leads to an unbalanced diet”. It also gives advice on foods to avoid and on the subject of tortoise pellets urges a lot of caution and says that if they are given as an additional food source. “They should be fed well soaked in boiled, then cooled, water, as otherwise they swell inside the tortoise causing gut blockages”.


I've dropped the Garden Centre another e-mail and I'll go back at some point soon to see if it's had any further effect.

Re: Garden Centre pet shop
Posted: 25/02/2010 by VivTPG

Hi Russ, thanks for passing the garden centre details on to me, we have added them to the list we are compiling.

Regards Vivienne, ps keep up the good work it looks as if your email did do some good.


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