What I Wish I Had Known (before bringing Malti home)

Don’t get me wrong.

As of this minute, I wouldn’t change one minute of Malti’s and my nearly two years together.

Except, of course, for all the times I screwed up.

Malti at nearly 3 months old, weathering her mommy's tort care growing pains the best she could. (June 2014)

My brave Malti at nearly 3 months old, doing her best to weather her mommy’s “baby tort care learning curve.” (June 2014)

I would change all of the bad advice I listened to (some of it from so-called “exotic species specialist” veterinarians)!

I would change my belief that, since keeping water turtles as a child was “so super easy” (i.e. because my mom did the majority of the feeding and aquarium cleaning), keeping a baby tropical tort would be easy too.

I would definitely change that night in the vet’s waiting room when, crying on the phone to my folks, I confessed my fears that my little turtle wouldn’t make it.

I would also change the hundreds of dollars it cost us to make sure that didn’t happen.

Most of all, I would change any discomfort my sweet Malti had to endure while her totally clueless (even if well-intentioned) non-tortoise mama learned how to take care of her properly.

In other words, I wish I had known that…..

  • Tortoises are ancient, wild, cold-blooded reptiles (aka as much unlike us as possible).
  • Each different species of tortoise (arid, tropical, semi-tropical, etc.) has different dietary, habitat, temperature, humidity and hibernation needs.
  • Captive tortoises are completely dependent on their carers to get it right.
  • Baby torts are very keen to hide an average of 24 out of every 24 hours (on account of how they are appetizer-sized and very delicious to a large number of natural and not-so-natural predators). Interfering with this hiding instinct can cause high stress and health/growth setbacks.
  • There are no “generalist” guides and VERY few species-specific tortoise care how-to guides, and those that exist are far from standardized.
  • But there are a FEW good, even great, resources for those carers who are simply determined to find them and will not stop looking until they do.
  • Tortoises (thank goodness) tend towards hardiness overall, which means some level of human care oopses can be tolerated without undue hardship.
  • The first year of a baby tort’s life is the most critical in terms of carapace (over and under shell), respiratory and bone development. Lack of proper care in this first 12-month period can and most likely will be felt for the balance of the tort’s lifetime.
  • Tortoises are “opportunistic feeders.” If presented (once or repeatedly) with something scrumptious, they are quite likely to eat and eat and eat….you get the idea.
  • Tortoises – for the most part – are NOT swimmers!! They may wade, float, even paddle, but their primary water need is hydration-focused, not submersion-focused (and yes, unlike their aquatic peers, they can drown if the water is too deep).
  • Just like some people and some warm-blooded pets are smarter and more social than others, so too are some tortoises smarter and more social than others.
  • Torts, like all living, breathing creatures, desire and enjoy stimulation, new challenges, experiences to satisfy their curiosity and anything that can replicate what they might discover if they were on their own in their natural wild habitat.
  • Taking torts from the wild is a NO NO NO NO NO!!!! For some species, including red-foots, seeking pets from reputable breeders is particularly critical since wild populations are being steadily decimated for food, black market trade, alternative medicine and other mostly human-fueled demand.
  • Not all tortoise breeders/resellers are created equally – some will certify a healthy tort and some will just sell you a tort – so be sure to do your homework before you hand over your credit card.

Each and every item on this list is something I didn’t know when, impulsively, I popped over to Craig’s List, clicked on the “pets” category, typed in “tortoises” and was greeted by the picture of the cutest baby tortoise I had ever seen.

That tortoise was Malti.

I was hooked, grilled and served.

Two days later, I found myself driving home with a tiny silver dollar-sized tort in an equally tiny plastic container in the front passenger seat of my car.

I’m not sure who was more terrified (I suspect it was me) and that terror lasted a good long time (sometimes it still recurs).

Please don’t do things like I did them.

We got through it (and by “it” I mean my and ONLY my growing pains from learning how to be a proper tortoise mama) but there are other, far better ways to begin life with a pet baby tortoise who just might – depending on species and especially if you do things right the first time – end up outliving you.

It is my hope that this website will introduce you to some of those ways.

My gorgeous young tort, basking under her twin heat and UV lamps on a bed of soft natural "grass" with both a shallow water dish and a temp/humidity gauge nearby so her mommy can continuously monitor her environment.

My gorgeous 20-month-old tort, basking under her twin heat and UV lamps on a bed of soft natural “grass” and repti-carpet with two humidifiers, a shallow water dish and a temp/humidity gauge nearby so her mommy can continuously monitor her environment. (February 2016)