This is a brief guide for the novice tortoise keeper. As experienced owners are becoming more successful at breeding their pets, more hatchlings are available for inexpereinced people, and it is important that correct conditions are supplied.

By fulfilling the tortoise's basic requiremets properly it could live for ninety years - so you need to get it right from the beginning. But baby tortoises are tougher than they look and have to fend for themselves in the wild, from day one, so don't molly coddle them, they live for longer if half neglected.

Your tortoise will need the following: Food, Water, A Home, A Garden and Somewhere to hibernate.

Food ...

Try to think about what it would eat in the wild and stick as close to that as possible.

Tortoises are vegetarians and should not eat things like milk, eggs, meat and cheese, which are too high in fat and protein.

Tortoises need a varied diet in fibre and calcium.

Do not over feed them, once or twice daily is sufficient. Over fed tortoises grow too fast and have a weaker structure.

Make them search for their food and don't give them bite sized peices. This is more representative of the wild, and will give them more exercise.

Hatchlings need Vitamin D and calcium to help them grow strong shells and bones. Small amounts of "Nutrobal" or "Vionate" powder supplements should be sprinkled on their food once or twice a week.

Diet Tips

Give them lots of: Dandelion leaves, plantain leaves, clover, bindweed, Russian Vine, soft thistle, cress, lettuce, watercress, raw brocolli or cauliflower (expecially the leaves)

Give them some: Cucumber, cabbage, tomato (no pips), and spring greens.

Give them a little: Apple and other fruits, peas and beans (the leaves are fine, but the veg is too high in protein).

Do not give them: dog/cat food, cheese, egg, meat, milk, banana, avacado, fruitcake or anything cooked.

Water

Hatchlings emerge from their shell fairly dehydrated and should first be given a good soak.

Constant access to water is important, especially in a vivarium or in hot weather, and it can help control humidity levels.

Home (Spring - Autumn)

Ideal aim for your tortoise is to be free range, in an escape proof garden, which is the closest they can get to wild conditions

Hatchlings should be allowed out in a run on sunny days, and should normally be outdoors between about May - September, unless there is a frost.

Your outdoor enclosure should be:

Escape Proof: Bricks to stop young tortoises digging out should surround wooden runs. Make the bottom solid of the tortoise will spend all its time seeing if the grass is greener on the other side!

Predator Proof: The biggest threat is from crows, magpies and gulls, also rats, dogs, foxes and badgers might also be a threat. Cover the run with plastic mesh or chicken wire.

Basking Area: Provide a flat slate, tile or rocky area to absorb the sun. An area of rough ground might suffice.

Shelter: Provide an area your tortoise can use to get out of the sun and rain. A small box or a half clay plant pot will sufice, or build something lovely, which is weatherproof and has a small entrance.

Older tortoises (500g plus) should be allowed the whole run of your garden to be really healthy and happy. If it is larrge and not too well kept, then tortoises may find enough food by grazing. Remember though that they can climb and dig (the only truly escape proof garden is a walled one without a gate). Fences need to be unbroken and securely blocked off at the bottom, ideally by extending the chicken wire several inches under the soil.

Tortoises cannot swim, so ponds are lethal. Ensure you block off any ponds very securely.

Unfortunately, tortoises are increasingly being stolen from peoples gardens, so do not have them on view and do not tell anyone you have them.

Home (Winter)

Small tortoises can't hibernate for the whole winter and need to be kept indoors for some of the time before and after hibernation. They need a home that incorporaates the following:

Temperature: Background temperature of about 20°C by day and about 10°C by night. A basking lamp with a temperature of about 30°C under it at one end of the vivarium should be large enough for the tortoise to move around to chose the temperature zone it fancies at any one time. In a small vivarium a candle bulb is often sufficient to provide the right temperature for basking.

Light: Bright light by day will encourage your tortoise to be more active. A fluorescent strip light of the type made for reptiles (e.g. Reptisun) is the nearest to the full spectrum daylight as experienced in the desert.

Water/Food: As before, but try adding a peice of cuttle fish, which they will bite and climb over.

Home: A small box, or shredded newspaper to sleep in.

Flooring: Keep your hatchling on something very easy to clean, e.g. newspaper. Sandpaper (as sold for budgies) for part of the floor will keep their nails trim. Loose sand is not advised as it can stick to them, they may eat it, and it is not so easy to clean out.

Hibernation

In the wild most Mediterranean tortoises hibernate over winter by burying themselves. Hibernation is triggered by decreased daylight hours and decreasing termperatures. To keep little ones awake you need to overcome both pressures and keep them in a heated vivarium with bright lights. If you have the confidence you can hibernate babies for winter for a short period. Hatchlings should definately be hibernated from their second winter onwards: increase the length of hibernation each year until they can be treated like adults. Tortoises should hibernate on empty stomachs, so gradually turn the heat and light down for a couple of weeks before you box them (so they become sluggish and stop eating). The ideal hibernation temperature is 4°C: Choose a frost-free place where the temperature does not rise about 7-8°C (otherwise they are just dosing and use up their body reserves).

Find a suitable small box and fill it with shredded newspaper, not hay or straw. Have some holes for ventilation then place your tortoise in the box and secure the lid.

Place this box inside a bigger box, which has been prepared with shredded paper and packed all around (like cavity wall insulation)

To wake a tortoise from hibernation you need to reverse the process: by increasing the warmth and length of daylight. Always give them a good soak in a dish of warm water to help flush out their kidneys. Offer water, and check them over. If your tortoise does not settle, or wakes early from hibernation follow the same procedure.

Infections

Provided that you have followed the guide above, you should not have any problems.

Do not let other tortoises near yours, and wash your hands first if you have been near others

Never mix species, as your tortoises are at risk from diseases carried by other tortoises

In reality there are only two major reasons for tortoises not thriving - DIET and ENVIRONMENT. Get these correct and you should be OK.