In Ireland, since the overwhelming majority of farm animals and animals kept as pets are mammals, the husbandry, biology and medical care of mammals is well understood by farmers, pet owners and vets.
Mammals keep their bodies at the optimum temperature by burning food internally to provide the body heat they need and are able to control their body temperature thermostatically. Except in extreme conditions, this is achieved without any deliberate effort on the part of the animal.
Tortoises, however, are reptiles and this means that their needs are different, they need to bask in the sun in order to heat their bodies to the correct temperature. The tortoise does this deliberately in the same way that we deliberately eat and drink.
Another critical difference between tortoise and the usual mammalian pets is the tortoise’s ability to cope with adverse conditions for extended periods. If a mammal is put in a situation where the conditions of the air, ambient temperature or the food and water supply is inadequate, its condition very rapidly deteriorates. If we subject a dog to incorrect husbandry its rapid deterioration tells us we are doing something wrong. Tortoises, in contrast, can put up with many potentially lethal conditions for long periods. At first sight this seems an advantage, but unfortunately this too often results in the owner not knowing that something is wrong.
Most of the literature on the subject of tortoise husbandry uses mammalian husbandry as its basis and as such is far from adequate in many respects, or else it is US-oriented where the climatological conditions are very different from Ireland’s. One further problem that tortoise keepers have is that during their training vets do not study reptiles, and many of the veterinary problems of tortoises are different from those of mammals.
The consequence of the all of the foregoing is that, inevitably, over 80% of tortoises imported into this country die within 5 years and most of those remaining are in poor health.
The Irish Association of Tortoise Keepers is an organisation set up to provide information to tortoise owners so that the general husbandry of tortoises can be improved. We hope to carry out research in order to improve our knowledge. Also we will try to get in touch with others doing similar work.In short our aims are as follows:
to be able to offer personal husbandry advice and to recommend specialist vets in case of problems.
to have books and videos on the subject available on loan
to extend our membership so that more tortoises can benefit from better care and husbandry
to issue magazines, hold lectures, have meetings
to carry out research into the living conditions of tortoises that survived after being imported into this country as far back as 35 years ago.