I’ve been making friends at Tortoise Club. I tried to keep my distance, but I’m not too good at it.
We put the Tots in a shoe box and Edweena in a wine box (without its dividers, of course) and set off for the village just south of Norwich where Ro and Dora live – so we dropped off various veg plants to them on the way. The tortoises were pronounced to be in excellent health – I enquired delicately about the bowel situation – this could be cured by more fluid intake, might be a symptom of worms, so paid a fiver for her to be wormed and took the Tots off to see Barbara, who bred them. She was very pleased to see they are doing so well. Then, we dropped them off at the crêche (yes, honestly) and bought some sandwiches and lemonade. There were squirty bottles of anti-bacterial liquid on the tables, which was just as well, because Edweena had Ed-wee’d in her carrier and the Tots had poo’ed in their box, so I’ve reinstated (I haven’t told Russell this) their names of Poodith and Peenelope.
I chatted to lots of nice people and found out a lot more about out tortoises. And now I’m telling you, darlings, with apologies for boring you rigid.
They are all female horsfield tortoises, from the steppes of Central Asia (by origin, that is – they were all bred and born in this country). This is a very arid habitat with extremes of temperature and is the limit of northern habitat for tortoises – Russia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, China. They aren’t very different from the Mediterranean species, except that they can’t cope with the wet very well. They are a small breed – though Edweena is a lot bigger than the 10cm length quoted, at 15.5 cm.
Because of the hot summers and cold winters, horsfield tortoises both aestivate and hibernate – sometimes, these periods run into each other and they can spend up to nine months of the year asleep, lazy little things that they are. So, when they are awake, they eat as much as possible – that means that here, where they won’t sleep for so long, they mustn’t be overfed. High fibre, low protein, not too much food is the order of the day.
Luckily, I’ve been very careful not to let their living quarters become damp. If we were to have a very wet summer, I’d have to bring them indoors. However, they were commended for their healthy shells – it’s not good for tortoises to be kept indoors too much, they need natural light and sunshine. Even the babies should be hibernated – possibly not this year, but a month or so would not be a bad thing, if their weight is right. Last autumn, Edweena stopped eating as a preparation to hibernation earlier than we expected, so this year I’ll start bringing her and the Tots in at night and on chilly days, to encourage them to keep active for longer.
Tortoises are more work than I realised. They are cute, though.