I’m not big on reptiles, mainly because they need a lot of set up with heat lamps, heat pads, night lights and a special substrate that won’t cause digestive problems. And then there are the salads, crickets or other live food depending on the species. Since I met my first tortoise, I’ve always been kind of fond of them and would someday consider having one as long as I could provide it with the right environment.
As a new first-year student on a tour of the animal compound at Moorpark College, I remember being shown the littlest leopard tortoise (Stigmochelys pardalis). He was housed in a small drawer that was part of an old dresser or some big, old china cabinet. This and other boxy enclosures were kept in a heated, walk-in shipping container known as “The Reptile Room.”
His name was Little Joe and he probably could have fit in the palm of my hand. I wouldn’t really know because first year students were not allowed to touch or talk to any of the animals. Little Joe was a good eater and sported a pulchritudinous, geometric design on his shell. I also loved his name.
Little Joe grew quickly and ended up having to leave his drawer within the year. After another year, he was big enough to walk around on the floor or sun himself with the other tortoises. When I visited the compound nearly ten years later, someone pointed to Little Joe walking around in an outdoor training ring used for large mammals. He looked to be about ten inches tall and maybe 16 inches long. I was happy to learn that one of the animals I once cared for was still alive. That tortoise must have had over 500 different students make him a salad over the years.
That’s the thing about turtles. If you’re not willing to make a salad for yourself or your kids nearly every day, an herbivorous reptile like a box turtle, tortoise or iguana might not be the best pet for you. Tortoises also get around fairly well and can move faster than you think. One of the vets at the animal hospital told us he finally had to paint a bright pink “X” on his tortoise’s shell in order to find him in the yard. That tortoise even got lost in the clinic one day. We finally found him in an office corner, under a desk.
So, after my birds and other animals eventually die off, I will strongly consider adopting a tortoise that needs a good home. Then, maybe we’ll all benefit from eating more fruits and greens. Who has got tortoises out there? What kind?
An adult leopard tortoise (Stigmochelys pardalis) grazing. It's easy to see how they can blend in with the environment. A well cared for tortoise can live up to 40 or more years, depending on the species.