Time was when a lot of families bought a tortoise home as a pet for their children. In England it was quite common to see a Mediterranean tortoise out on the lawn, watched in fascination by humans and other animals alike as it chugged around the flowerbed or ate a hearty meal of lettuce and tomato. They proved quite intelligent and often learnt to go to places (like the back door of the kitchen) where food could be expected. Come the end of October the owners would place the tortoise in a cardboard box and stick the box on a shelf in the garage until spring arrived and awoke the tortoise from hibernation.
While we meant well, and genuinely loved these pets (I speak from youthful experience here), we often did them more harm than good. The diet of lettuce was actually very poor in necessary nutrients, while placing the hibernation box on a shelf in the garage often resulted in serious injury to tortoises when they stirred or woke early and tried to climb out. With the painful hindsight that comes from increased knowledge we now also know that they were actually happy leading a solitary existence and did usually not need a mate or "friend", much less a dog or cat sniffing curiously around them . And of course it is now well-known that the conditions under which tortoises were imported into this country were abominable, a disgraceful state of affairs which led to severe restrictions on further imports into the UK.
To a British or European person, the word "tortoise" almost invariably summons up one of the Mediterranean tortoises, Testudo graeca or Testudo hermanni. The fact is that there are many other species of tortoise, as well as turtles and terrapins, in the world, although not on the same prolific scale as lizards or snakes. US reptile enthusiasts are in a more fortunate position, since they normally have access to both native animals (although some restrictions apply) and chelonians from further abroad. Unfortunately a lot of species are under severe pressure in some parts of the world, ironically even in the USA.
Chelonians were not helped by the Ninja Mutant Turtle mania that swept the West, leading to the purchase of terrapins for avid youngsters. Not only did the terrapins not thrive on pizza (funnily enough!), but as they grew too large for their aquarium tanks, lots of folk panicked and dumped them into local ponds, rivers and streams. Not only was this cruel on the terrapins (especially in colder climates), it was also cruel to other native wildlife, since the carnivorous and hungry terrapins devastated the local ecology by devouring all other occupants of the same body of water. Terrapins can now be found in reptile sanctuaries, joining other victims of human crazes such as giant green iguanas and large pythons.
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What are Chelonians?
So you fancy buying a tortoise, terrapin or turtle?
Tortoise, terrapin or turtle?
Species: what's commonly available
Links to other chelonian pages
Central American River Turtles, Dermatemys
Fly-River/Pignose Turtle, Carettochelys
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