There are many different species and sub-species of tortoises. The information found on this site refers mainly to the Mediterranean species of tortoise, which include the Spur-thighed, Hermann's and Marginated Tortoise, as these are the species most commonly kept as pets in the UK as they can be successfully bred in captivity.
Mediterranean tortoises originate from countries around the Mediterranean, including North Africa and Spain. In the wild, they live in dry, rocky areas and will climb and dig. If correctly cared for, tortoises can live up to 90 years. Adult tortoises grow up to a length of 16cm and females slightly larger, up to 20cm.
Mediterranean tortoises are now listed on Appendix 2 of CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) and are also covered by additional EU-wide legislation, which controls the sale, transport and possession of tortoises within Europe. Tortoises can no longer be imported, sold, offered for sale or otherwise traded within Europe without a special permit and the correct documentation for the animal. It’s important to ensure that you purchase a tortoise from a responsible, reputable breeder.
Given their size, a pet tortoise should be looked at rather than handled, they are likely to find handling stressful rather than enjoyable. A tortoise should never be handled by children.
A tortoise is not a toy and will suffer if handled too regularly. Given their size, strength and weight, they should never be handled by young children. They are likely to find handling stressful rather than enjoyable and are better to be watched.
Do you have enough space for a tortoise? You’ll need a large, secure (ideally enclosed) outdoor area for your tortoise to live, plus an indoor area for shelter and warmth. Tortoises are good escape artists, and will climb and dig to get out!
Can you afford to feed and provide enough heat and warmth for your tortoise? During the colder months you will need to provide a heat source to ensure that your tortoise remains at the perfect temperature. Remember also that some species of tortoise need to hibernate during the colder winter months.
You'll need to look into the specialist exotic vets in your area and ensure they have a good understanding of tortoise illnesses – not all vets have the knowledge or equipment to care for a sick tortoise. You will also need to research the most common signs of illness in your tortoise so any health issues can be identified quickly.
A tortoise is a life-long commitment and if well cared for, may live for up to 90 years. You’ll need to be dedicated to your tortoise's care long-term and be sure that you are not just buying him on a whim.
Captive-bred tortoises are known to benefit from companionship and can become stressed if kept alone – do you have the money and space required for two tortoises?
Do you have other pets, particularly dogs? Dogs are generally not compatible with tortoises and will need to be kept separately. Do you have enough space to provide separate areas for your pets?