Accidental Russian Tortoise Owner and New Enclosure

Soraya

New Member
Joined
Jul 16, 2021
Messages
4
Location (City and/or State)
London
Hello Friends,

Firstly, I am new to the forum and wish to thank you all so very much for the care sheets and very informative discussions which I have been following avidly, they have been invaluable to my learning and building of confidence, I am very grateful! My name is Cathy, from the UK.

I also apologise for the long introductory post! I’ve been hard at work, reading lots, evaluating lots, and formulating lots, and wanted to share what I have already, and pick up any further pointers I may be missing if ok? I have kept a bearded dragon comfortably in the past, and a corn snake, amongst a menagerie of usual pets (mammals, birds and fish) and I LOVE tortoises, but felt I didn’t know enough. Now he is my accidental introduction so I needed to learn fast as he had landed on me overnight with no intent and little preparation!

A little over 2 months ago a male Horsfield was found in a suburban garden and handed in to a local pet store who neither sell or rehome reptiles. He is not microchipped. I agreed to foster him until his owners came forward. The vet observed nothing of acute concern, though to my inexperienced eye he seemed a little weak and pale (if that is a thing!) He certainly became stronger and greener (even shinier!) over the next few weeks! At first he dragged his shell a little at the back, now he is able to walk normally. At first he would tip himself over often from standing on his hind legs in his temporary enclosure (massively anxiety provoking!), he has not tipped for some weeks now.

He has eaten very well from the start (weeds, flowers, greens, as per tortoise table) and is very active. Given that he has adapted well, eats well, is active, enjoys his twice weekly soak as if he has been used to it (seems to enjoy a gentle toothbrush on his shell!) does not mind handling when needed and appears curious about me and his environment, my sense is that he was previously cared for ok, but had escaped from somewhere and roamed for some time, lucky to avoid predation!!

But of course this is all speculation, and I have anxiety as to whether to hibernate him this year or not as I don’t know his age, his history or how to know that he is safe enough (I want the best for him, but hibernating does make me anxious as a new tortoise owner). My guess is he is an adult? his plastron is 4 inches front to back, a photo of his shell is attached for age guesstimate, though I’m learning this is not accurate. He is male, I figured that much out!

Anyhow, as you might have guessed, his owners have not come forward, and our guest made it clear very early on that the temporary 4.5 foot by 2.5 foot foster enclosure was not large enough for him (constantly patrolling edges and standing up at the sides). I felt it was time to make him something more substantial, though still temporary in that we are likely to move home in 2 years and our new garden will now need to factor in a tortoise enclosure (as it seems he has moved in!) as well as space for a large dog, 2 cats and a large pond to transfer our koi to!

Our current garden is large and south west facing. I live in the South East UK so our climate is temperate but with less extremes compared to the rest of the UK. I have chosen an area of the garden that is more sheltered from the sun and rain by large trees; on a bright clear day allowing some areas of the enclosure full sun in the morning and evening, with dappled and shaded areas in the hottest part of the day. Similarly, in higher winds or rain, it is the more sheltered part of the garden.

I have attached some photos of his new home. For the bright eyed perfectionists amongst us, there is clearly room for improvement! lol! But I am a nurse therapist and not a carpenter, so please forgive my imperfections as my aim was to make it safe and adequate, so I did what I could with the skills and tools available to me (I had more tools than skills lol, but I had a vision!)

I started with a base of 20mm gravel and sand soak away, topped with chicken wire larger than the enclosure to prevent digging in or out, then covered with barrier layers (moreso to resist him digging to the mesh than preventing any unwanted weed growth!). This was topped by organic top soil, no additives, with lawn edging used to support landscaping and prevent soil slippage from the slopes.

So my intention was an 8 foot by 4 foot. However, as you may work out from the photos, once I had the frame in I realised what 8 by 4 actually looked like, and started to think that once I had accommodated his 2 foot square insulated night box, as well as landscaping that allowed for gradients, hides, plants, textures - basically enrichment moreso than aesthetics - this radically reduced his floor space! You can see a pic of Willy project managing his new extension even before the main enclosure was built lol!

So I added a 4 foot square extension to accommodate his house when it arrives (spec of house also attached, and you can see the hole it will drop into in the enclosure) This area has 2 wooden hides which will go either side of the house, and an acrylic sheet secured beneath the meshed panel in front of the house. My intention is to make this area warm and dry but well ventilated to the inside of the main enclosure (the cut out doorway at the edge of the acrylic top)

I can get power to it no problem. The new house has intentionally enough height to accommodate lamps, and length for a heat gradient so he can move away, and essentially a “cold frame” outside his front door before he is out in the elements, so I am intending a CHE on a Habistat pulsing thermostat, and maybe a Mercury vapour bulb on a timer for the wet/overcast days?

What makes me laugh the most is, I am planting weeds!!! Who’d a ever thunk that lol! (Hubby is not allowed to mow the lawn until I have rescued every dandelion in sight! (Tort favourite!)) Oh and what I learned is when a plant says “tortoise friendly” it could well mean completely edible and gone in one sitting (bye bye expensive sedum!)

Anyway, thank you if you lasted this long! I apologise again for the wall of text and invite any comments or questions to help me think more to get this as right enough as I can for a captive tortoise.

Thank you again!! 11355B4B-A854-4452-ABFB-4F238868C7B1.png F5393504-46F5-485E-994A-600A27DFBCD1.jpeg 756B58B4-E11B-47CA-A6C8-6EDB1FA2127D.jpeg 994DD1BB-252D-467F-8A3C-39DDCD64B47D.jpeg 1268CFC9-3E9C-4679-AD9F-965AF66C5FF8.jpeg 84833F76-ACA6-43E1-8C5F-ADBDC732EE06.jpeg B8FCE1FB-F224-4461-B00A-2B14B735C963.jpeg 77A5F979-6368-4D61-B4DF-9A82E65AE1DB.jpeg 1CA9F6BF-E231-4C19-A94E-8E4D6BA14B1D.jpeg ACA071D3-917D-4B13-AD31-00C8E01C7AB0.jpeg
 

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wellington

Well-Known Member
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10 Year Member!
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Joined
Sep 6, 2011
Messages
40,858
Location (City and/or State)
Chicago, Illinois, USA
WOW! Just wow. You did a fabulous job.
The only thing needs answering is the hibernation part. It's not recommended to do it the first year of owning him. Take the time to really get to know him and basically giving him a year of good living and diet. This way you know how if he is healthy enough to hibernate and that his eating habits are good a whole year or so before putting him into hibernation.
Lucky fella that you got him. You did great.
 

Jan A

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jan 9, 2021
Messages
1,425
Location (City and/or State)
Boulder, CO
Hello Friends,

Firstly, I am new to the forum and wish to thank you all so very much for the care sheets and very informative discussions which I have been following avidly, they have been invaluable to my learning and building of confidence, I am very grateful! My name is Cathy, from the UK.

I also apologise for the long introductory post! I’ve been hard at work, reading lots, evaluating lots, and formulating lots, and wanted to share what I have already, and pick up any further pointers I may be missing if ok? I have kept a bearded dragon comfortably in the past, and a corn snake, amongst a menagerie of usual pets (mammals, birds and fish) and I LOVE tortoises, but felt I didn’t know enough. Now he is my accidental introduction so I needed to learn fast as he had landed on me overnight with no intent and little preparation!

A little over 2 months ago a male Horsfield was found in a suburban garden and handed in to a local pet store who neither sell or rehome reptiles. He is not microchipped. I agreed to foster him until his owners came forward. The vet observed nothing of acute concern, though to my inexperienced eye he seemed a little weak and pale (if that is a thing!) He certainly became stronger and greener (even shinier!) over the next few weeks! At first he dragged his shell a little at the back, now he is able to walk normally. At first he would tip himself over often from standing on his hind legs in his temporary enclosure (massively anxiety provoking!), he has not tipped for some weeks now.

He has eaten very well from the start (weeds, flowers, greens, as per tortoise table) and is very active. Given that he has adapted well, eats well, is active, enjoys his twice weekly soak as if he has been used to it (seems to enjoy a gentle toothbrush on his shell!) does not mind handling when needed and appears curious about me and his environment, my sense is that he was previously cared for ok, but had escaped from somewhere and roamed for some time, lucky to avoid predation!!

But of course this is all speculation, and I have anxiety as to whether to hibernate him this year or not as I don’t know his age, his history or how to know that he is safe enough (I want the best for him, but hibernating does make me anxious as a new tortoise owner). My guess is he is an adult? his plastron is 4 inches front to back, a photo of his shell is attached for age guesstimate, though I’m learning this is not accurate. He is male, I figured that much out!

Anyhow, as you might have guessed, his owners have not come forward, and our guest made it clear very early on that the temporary 4.5 foot by 2.5 foot foster enclosure was not large enough for him (constantly patrolling edges and standing up at the sides). I felt it was time to make him something more substantial, though still temporary in that we are likely to move home in 2 years and our new garden will now need to factor in a tortoise enclosure (as it seems he has moved in!) as well as space for a large dog, 2 cats and a large pond to transfer our koi to!

Our current garden is large and south west facing. I live in the South East UK so our climate is temperate but with less extremes compared to the rest of the UK. I have chosen an area of the garden that is more sheltered from the sun and rain by large trees; on a bright clear day allowing some areas of the enclosure full sun in the morning and evening, with dappled and shaded areas in the hottest part of the day. Similarly, in higher winds or rain, it is the more sheltered part of the garden.

I have attached some photos of his new home. For the bright eyed perfectionists amongst us, there is clearly room for improvement! lol! But I am a nurse therapist and not a carpenter, so please forgive my imperfections as my aim was to make it safe and adequate, so I did what I could with the skills and tools available to me (I had more tools than skills lol, but I had a vision!)

I started with a base of 20mm gravel and sand soak away, topped with chicken wire larger than the enclosure to prevent digging in or out, then covered with barrier layers (moreso to resist him digging to the mesh than preventing any unwanted weed growth!). This was topped by organic top soil, no additives, with lawn edging used to support landscaping and prevent soil slippage from the slopes.

So my intention was an 8 foot by 4 foot. However, as you may work out from the photos, once I had the frame in I realised what 8 by 4 actually looked like, and started to think that once I had accommodated his 2 foot square insulated night box, as well as landscaping that allowed for gradients, hides, plants, textures - basically enrichment moreso than aesthetics - this radically reduced his floor space! You can see a pic of Willy project managing his new extension even before the main enclosure was built lol!

So I added a 4 foot square extension to accommodate his house when it arrives (spec of house also attached, and you can see the hole it will drop into in the enclosure) This area has 2 wooden hides which will go either side of the house, and an acrylic sheet secured beneath the meshed panel in front of the house. My intention is to make this area warm and dry but well ventilated to the inside of the main enclosure (the cut out doorway at the edge of the acrylic top)

I can get power to it no problem. The new house has intentionally enough height to accommodate lamps, and length for a heat gradient so he can move away, and essentially a “cold frame” outside his front door before he is out in the elements, so I am intending a CHE on a Habistat pulsing thermostat, and maybe a Mercury vapour bulb on a timer for the wet/overcast days?

What makes me laugh the most is, I am planting weeds!!! Who’d a ever thunk that lol! (Hubby is not allowed to mow the lawn until I have rescued every dandelion in sight! (Tort favourite!)) Oh and what I learned is when a plant says “tortoise friendly” it could well mean completely edible and gone in one sitting (bye bye expensive sedum!)

Anyway, thank you if you lasted this long! I apologise again for the wall of text and invite any comments or questions to help me think more to get this as right enough as I can for a captive tortoise.

Thank you again!!
Yezzzzzz, welcome to the forum. You have a lot of great owners in the UK who are on this forum. What a lucky tort this guy is to find you. You're a great example of why we can never have enough tools!! Welcome!! Keep the photos coming!!
 

Soraya

New Member
Joined
Jul 16, 2021
Messages
4
Location (City and/or State)
London
WOW! Just wow. You did a fabulous job.
The only thing needs answering is the hibernation part. It's not recommended to do it the first year of owning him. Take the time to really get to know him and basically giving him a year of good living and diet. This way you know how if he is healthy enough to hibernate and that his eating habits are good a whole year or so before putting him into hibernation.
Lucky fella that you got him. You did great.
Thank you Wellington, this also gives me time to learn about it so that I do it right since we are now heading into Autumn. Would advice be that I bring him to his indoor enclosure at night when we reach a certain ground temperature or would the heated house in the dry area be adequate? Since I don’t have the house delivered yet, I can’t give any temperature ranges. Thanks again! Cathy
 

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Soraya

New Member
Joined
Jul 16, 2021
Messages
4
Location (City and/or State)
London
Yezzzzzz, welcome to the forum. You have a lot of great owners in the UK who are on this forum. What a lucky tort this guy is to find you. You're a great example of why we can never have enough tools!! Welcome!! Keep the photos coming!!
Thank you, Jan! I have already experienced this site as helpful and informative before I posted, so glad I found you all! Cathy
 

wellington

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10 Year Member!
Tortoise Club
Joined
Sep 6, 2011
Messages
40,858
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Chicago, Illinois, USA
@JoesMum who is in the UK can probably help better with the winter housing and temps as I know nothing about your weather.
Here in Chicago Illinois, we can get into single digits and lower and snow.
Once the days stay in low 70's and nights into 50's, I bring mine in to his winter enclosure in my basement and he stays there until spring/summer. I don't hibernate at all. The temps and lighting has to be kept as if its summer, with a basking spot or they will not want to eat and will try to hibernate but won't be able too fully.
I don't think your temps are warm enough to let him live outside with just a small heated house, but Joe'sMum can answer that much better or other UK members
 

Cathie G

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Aug 9, 2018
Messages
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Lancaster
Hello and welcome to the forum. I've never hibernated my Russian in 14 years of having him. I've read here that it's not necessary with a Russian. In the winter I can tell that he feels the changes in climate even though I always keep him at the same temperature and humidity indoors. He becomes a little less active but I still do all of his regular care daily including fresh food. Even if I have to throw it away. Your enclosure is so cute and I love it. It would be nice if you could add to it to make it a bit taller though. I found my little guy hanging by one claw from the hardware cloth on the lid because he climbs like a monkey. I usually use 1"x12" and it's much like yours. That will actually work (1x12) if there's nothing to push close to a wall that becomes an enabler. I've watched my little Russian flip sideways (if he's sandwiched between the wall and something) to walk up as far as he can. At that point he can wind up on his back, hanging from a claw, or escape...etc.etc.etc. have sooo much fun 🤗
 
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