Advice and information on caring for your Hermann's Tortoise
Southern Europe, Spain, the Balkans, Greece and Turkey
Tortoises can be kept outside during a warm summer, depending upon size and species. Mediterranean species and larger individuals of the more tropical species, will benefit from most warm sunny days. Small specimens should only be put out in really warm weather. Outside ensure that the animal has shelter from the cold and to shade it from sunlight. Ensure that there is a pond. Enclose the space so that the Hermann’s Tortoise cannot escape and so that pets, birds and other visitors cannot enter the compound.
For most of the year Hermann’s Tortoises will need to be kept indoors. They need as large an area as you can give so that they can explore, find warm and cool areas, somewhere to hide and somewhere to rub themselves when they are shedding. They need a pool. Also essential is a source of Vitamin D. UV tubes giving off light in which the animal can bask are ideal and should be changed yearly. A warm spot can be created using a special spot lamp or ceramic heater.
Ventilation is an important factor in Hermann’s Tortoise management. Most species require an adequate humidity, but cannot tolerate stagnant air conditions. Fresh air moving into the cage is essential. Use the upward draught of hot air rising to flush out the enclosure and drag fresh air in. A light misting with a hand sprayer will provide any humidity required but the dampness should have evaporated away within a couple of hours. A general range of between 40% and 70% RH would be adequate. Alternatively, a damp hide box may be provided as this will give the animal access to 100% humidity should it want it.
Hermann’s tortoises can be kept singly or in groups groups. Of course the more tortoises kept in each enclosure, the larger the enclosure should be. A three foot enclosure is suitable to house a juvenile. Larger areas are needed as the animal grows, especially for the larger species. Mature males tend to fight so do not put more than one in the enclosure. In any case, there should be plenty of retreats and visual screens for individuals to use as hides. Even then, males will pester females throughout the breeding season, so once mating has been successful, it may be as well to house mature male Hermann’s Tortoises separately. The enclosure will need periodic cleaning . Five to six weeks would be about as long as the cage could be left before being completely cleaned. Baby tortoises are best housed in a heated vivarium.
Your whole tortoise should be gently grasped and held in the hands. One hand beneath, supporting and the other grasping the animal’s shell to control it. Until it has accustomed itself with its new surroundings, including a new owner, the temptation to handle a new pet tortoise should be resisted.
Leafy vegetables like cabbage and other green leafy items form the staple diet in captivity. To bulk out the food, grated root vegetables can be used and these could include items like carrot and swede. A lesser proportion of the diet, say 25%, could be made up with fruit and salad items. These, whilst relished, are a bit short on the coarse fibre that is essential. Hermann’s Tortoises will require a bulk source of calcium and in captivity will accept crushed limestone and cuttlefish bone. Occasionally some individuals will eat food of animal origin and such things as dog and cat food have been taken. One or two small meals per month would seem to do no harm but you can omit this type of meaty food all together. Offer your Hermann’s Tortoise whole leaves of cabbage and other leafy plants like spinach, kale and carrot tops. Select out un-wilted leaves with good edges because the animal can bite most easily from these. The smaller amounts of other vegetables and fruit should be chopped or grated as the animal will have to be able to bite mouthfuls off. A whole apple or carrot would prove a daunting prospect! Some dry tortoise diets are excellent foods and many individuals accept them with enthusiasm. Hermann’s Tortoises seem highly attracted to some smells and canned tomatoes, for example, seem to be almost irresistible. So using them to flavour new food items can be tried.
Food is only eaten if the tortoise is warm enough so you need to ensure that your heat and humidity levels are right to facilitate feeding. Feed your Hermann’s Tortoise every day with as much fresh food as it will eat. It is not usually possible to over-feed a tortoise on fresh leafy food. If more concentrated food is offered, such as commercial diets or other bulky carbohydrate rich items, controlled amounts are advisable. Any diet needs to be supplemented with vitamins and minerals. Dusting the food with Reptavite two or three times per week would normally be sufficient. If an individual animal is showing signs of bone or shell disease, such as softness or distortion, a more potent supplement is advised, but do not use it continuously over a long period. Water should always be provided.
Tortoises who live outdoors in the summer are best hibernated as adults. In the autumn, as soon as the weather turns, bring the tortoise in and house in a heated vivarium. From about September to the beginning of November, feed your Hermann’s Tortoise a good varied diet and check that it feels reasonably heavy for its size. The next thing required is to empty the gut in preparation for hibernation. Keeping the animal reasonably warm and watered for about a week but without feeding will do this. Once empty of food but well hydrated, the tortoise can be safely hibernated. Cool the animal down to between 5°C and 10°C over a few days and then introduce it to the hibernation container. This can be a wooden or stout cardboard box filled with loose hay. Cover the tortoise with a little more hay and then shield from the light with a piece of sacking or a newspaper. Store the contained animal in a safe, vermin free location at a stable temperature of between 5°C and 10°C for about three months. The tortoise can be removed from hibernation around the end of March and this is done by bringing the animal in from the cold and letting it reach room temperature over the course of a day. Once active, the most important thing to do is re-hydrate the tortoise by putting it in a shallow pool of about 1cm of tepid water. It may be advantageous to add a probiotic and electrolyte mix like to reestablish a physiological equilibrium. The reawakened Hermann’s Tortoise can then be housed in a normally furnished vivarium and offered its favourite food.
Tortoises live for many years. They do not suffer from many diseases and veterinary attention is rarely needed. The most often encountered disease will be a metabolic bone disorder caused by insufficient vitamin D3 or calcium. Some specimens may also suffer from a shell deformity showing as a peaking of the upper shell plates to give a rather nobly appearance. Most species have a smooth form to the shell and the distortion that is sometimes found is due to too low a humidity in the environment. If your Hermann’s Tortoise is not eating then it is worth placing it in a 1 cm bath of tepid water for a short while. Watch your tortoise at all times and do not be surprised if all it does is pass faeces and urinates. If it is constipated the bath may offer some relief.
If tortoises have had any contact with wild or free living specimens, then it is likely that they will have acquired some parasites. Look out for signs of worms being shed in the faeces but if at all in doubt, consult a vet.
Good practice, hygiene and first aid will probably deal with most of the other problems. If real disease is discovered, a vet must of course, be consulted. Pet Hermann’s Tortoises do not pose a real threat to human health. All the normal hygiene precautions regarding humans and animals should, however, be observed.