Asian Tortoise Trade, Sulcata Hatchling Health, Hard Urates & Other Observations

KhairulTort

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Tortoises in Malaysia & Thailand
I recently got my first tortoise. But the where I got it, raised a lot of questions about tortoise keeping in my part of the world. I hope this gives you all a glimpse into a different part of the hobby. It's been about two months since I became a tortoise owner and I'm already experiencing a few problems and could use all your input and knowledge on the care end of things but I'd like to share my experience with you all, as the majority of members here are from the US.

I have some points I'm keen for members to discuss or help me with. I've put these in bold.

Trafficking and Trading - Buying, Selling & Sourcing Tortoises

I was wandering through a market in Kuala Lumpur, its a city well known as one of the worlds' biggest wildlife trafficking and trade hotspots. Here, I stumbled across three sulcata hatchlings in a pet shop. They were all unmoving, their water bowl empty, no heat, no lights. Malaysia has a tropical climate, the weather stays above 80F almost all year round and things are very humid. It's practically like living in one of Tom's chambered hatchling enclosures for most of the year. But that's outdoors. With constant air conditioning in most indoor spaces, these tortoises were cold to the point where they were inactive.

When I asked about their care, one of the staff said that they had 'lights and heat at night' which didn't make any sense to me because the glass display they were housed in was stacked with more displays above and below holding guinea pigs, skinks and rabbits. I was told they were 6 months old at this time. Something I'm still not sure about. I was told that they were fed bok choy, once daily. And that despite their practically comatose state, they ate well. Doubtful. There was no place to hold heat lamps nor did I see any nearby power points where power could be supplied to these tanks. It was miserable.

ycD3nHp

https://imgur.com/ycD3nHp


This is a scene that is very common in many countries across Asia. The lack of concern for animal welfare is very distressing to witness and I have long been appalled at the conditions animals for sale are kept in.
In Thailand, there is an even bigger demand for tortoises in particular. At Jatujuck market in Bangkok, you can walk around and find hundreds of star tortoises, the endemic yellow headed tortoises and Burmese Mountain tortoises, with many of the rarer tortoise species openly for sale in tiny cages, or on tables in groups. And if you get friendly with someone in the loop, a Ploughshare is a phone call away.

Wildlife trafficking and protection laws are openly violated and ignored. Prosecution isn't a real threat, and importation is facilitated by customs staff and enforcement officials who are paid to look the other way.
There is a well known report available online of an Indian tortoise and turtle smugglers who had their shipments confiscated by Thai customs officials only to later find that those same officials were then selling their confiscated tortoises on to local dealers. CITES be damned.

Another aspect to this asian tortoise trade is the more nefarious and completely legal importation of farmed tortoises from Africa.
I believe these three sulcatas I was looking at in Malaysia fall into this category.
The extent of these transactions aren't properly documented but there are records of some legal exportation occurring which you can find statistics for. Having talked to a few vendors in Malaysia and Thailand, I gather that there is a thriving trade to be found in the importation and sale of hatchling and juvenile sulcata and leopard tortoises from 'farms' in the native regions of these tortoises. This video
shows the 'unboxing' of shipments of hundreds of these sulcata hatchlings from a guy in Indonesia who is a dealer of tortoises in Jakarta.
The people who buy these animals get them in the same way as you would a pet goldfish when you're 6. A long held belief in many Chinese cultures in the South East Asia region is that the tortoise grants your family long and stable life. It's a pity that the majority of these hatchlings aren't given the same. Most of them will die in pet stores as I'm sure the other two hatchlings I didn't purchase did. Whoops spoilers. Yeah I regret supporting an evil pet trade, but I caved and bought the neglected baby. The only one that would even open its eyes after being wet with some water. Its' not easy task to kill a sulcata hatchling through sheer neglect, but we manage it somehow. Like goldfish they're bred in the hundreds of thousands. Tortoises were the number one exported live reptile from Africa to Asia from 2017-2018. Leopards topped the list, and the DOCUMENTED AND LEGAL trade in leopard tortoises were mostly Zambia, which exported 183,328 from 2017-2018. There must be thousands more wild caught and restricted rare species which make it in through legal channels.
As an experienced exotic fish keeper I know how lax and clueless many customs and quarantine officials all over the world are when it comes to species identification. If you mark a box of koi as goldfish, not many people will know the difference. The same likely applies here.
From the information I could find, the sulcatas that are imported to Asia are coming from Egypt?!? Can't confirm and increasingly Sudan. So I guess word has gotten around about those Sudanese genetics.

I would love it if anyone has ever seen or knows more about these Sudanese Sulcata farms. I'm very interested to know about what the tortoises that are the breeding stock for a massive transplanted population of juvenile sulcatas <10 years old are like. Is there much genetic diversity? Unlikely.
This may also be of interest to you folks who care about the purity of your South African Leopard genetics. Its still relatively easy to source an animal from any specific locality over here.


In Malaysia all 'exotic' and imported reptiles require a licence from Perhilitan; the government department of Wildlife and National Parks. These authorities are lax and don't enforce any kind of real registration of owners or animals.
When I purchased the hatchling I was given a form to fill out and a huge dog sized syringe apparently containing a microchip for the tortoise. This was obviously ridiculous. They told me that I was required to go and register the tortoise within two weeks of purchase. Somehow that seems like they're doing things backwards.

I'm sure I was duped with a foreigner price, but the sulcata hatchling which I bought cost me 600 RM. Which is about $140 USD. A very unhappy customer.

Caring For A Starved and Dehydrated Sulcata Hatchling

As you can see, he's already heavily pyramided for a hatchling. (If anyone can give me some more advice about fixing that up it would be great.)
I've got him in a nice big enclosure with an exo-terra desert uvb tubelight. Is that alright? (See pics)
100 F at the basking spot 90+ on the hot end, 80 F on the cool end. Lots of plants, hides, fresh water daily. Having trouble getting him on to grass, as he's only ever been fed store greens. I've cut bok choy out of his diet completely. He now gets romanie, bears breech leaves, collard greens (kale), cucumber, oak leaf lettuce, and some chicory on occasion with small sprinkles of grass which accepts when unknowingly taking a chomp here and there.
80% + humidity. Two soaks daily.

ojQ8h5G

https://imgur.com/ojQ8h5G

Zhsbhuc

https://imgur.com/Zhsbhuc

He's recovered seemingly well, and eats lots daily. Was very shy at first, but now will eat from my hands. Although he doesn't seem to explore very much and stays near or directly under his ceramic heat emitters for most of the night. The temps seem fine at ground level.
svaCFrG

https://imgur.com/svaCFrG



The only problem is a month and a half on, he's producing alarmingly hard urates on occasion (see pics) they cone out as whole rocky chunks. I don't know if they've been in his system for ages and they're only coming out now or if its the change in diet, lack of moisture, diet of oxalate high bok choy. But this is the most alarming thing about his care for me currently. I was adding small amounts of ExoTerra Calcium +D3 with occasional sprinklings of their multivitamins, but I've stopped doing this since I believe it might be contributing to the production of these stones. I don't want to have a tortoise with kidney stones, and there are no vets at all that can deal with them if they become an issue.

jinT5jZ

https://imgur.com/jinT5jZ

eLURtes

https://imgur.com/eLURtes


Last week I introduced a small plant from the local nursery to the enclosure. It had a weird smell coming out of its leaves, the next day the tortoise was very inactive. Barely ate. I took the plant out, he's regained his appetite. Coincidence? I think not.

I'd love some advice and some general thoughts!

Thanks :)

Tort Carpet.jpeg Broke.jpeg Early tort.jpeg Hard.jpeg House.jpeg Tort blog.jpeg Tort Closed.jpeg WhatsApp Image 2019-08-12 at 11.58.38 PM.jpeg
 

wellington

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Wow so very sad and disgusting the lack of care and concern for this animals.
Glad you are trying to save one. The urates are concerning for such a young one. I would soak for 30 minutes 2-3 times a day. I would lower your 90 temps to 80 or 85. Good luck
 

KhairulTort

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The urates are concerning for such a young one. I would soak for 30 minutes 2-3 times a day. I would lower your 90 temps to 80 or 85. Good luck

I’ll try and increase his daily soaks. Usually it’s just one half an hour soak in the morning and then occasionally a short evening soak. I wet all his food to ensure he gets moisture. Do you think they indicate his system being flushed out? Have you ever experienced a young tortoise with hard urates like this before? Do you know if calcium contributes to hard urate formation?

Ambient temp in the enclosure stays above 80 and is only above 90 on one side of the enclosure, but the little guy only stays around that end. He sleeps in his fake rock hide at night. Doesn’t seem to favour any of the other pot plant hides I’ve made him.
I’ve read that their hotspots should be up to 100F. Am I having him too hot?
I feel like he would just wander over the other end of the enclosure if he did feel it.

Thanks for the advice
 

Markw84

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I’ll try and increase his daily soaks. Usually it’s just one half an hour soak in the morning and then occasionally a short evening soak. I wet all his food to ensure he gets moisture. Do you think they indicate his system being flushed out? Have you ever experienced a young tortoise with hard urates like this before? Do you know if calcium contributes to hard urate formation?

Ambient temp in the enclosure stays above 80 and is only above 90 on one side of the enclosure, but the little guy only stays around that end. He sleeps in his fake rock hide at night. Doesn’t seem to favour any of the other pot plant hides I’ve made him.
I’ve read that their hotspots should be up to 100F. Am I having him too hot?
I feel like he would just wander over the other end of the enclosure if he did feel it.

Thanks for the advice
Your temperatures are good from what you report. The warm side 90° temperature is fine for a young sulcata. My enclosures regularly get into the mid 90°s every day.

Hard urates are not caused by calcium. It is a by-product of protein metabolism. With lack of hydration this is cumulative and the concentration of uric acid in the systems precipitates and forms the hard urates. I think you are seeing a flushing of the system by your increase of hydration now. Your young tortoise now is getting enough wter to flush its system more regularly and luckily the hard urates are still small enough to flush out as well.

It sounds like you are doing a great job. Keep up the soaks and do ensure the water is deep enough. I feel most people advise soaking in water too shallow. I like the water at least 1/2 way up the shell - to at least where the marginals meet the costals. This semi-boyancy created seems to help them and it also encourages a lot of scrambling around with is great exercise and also helps move things through their digestive tract. The soak also normally triggers a response tortoises have to dump the water they are retaining to refresh it with new water. That is their natural way to dramatically keep concentrations of metabolic waste low.

Thank you so much for the detailed information on your experiences and insights. I find it very interesting.
 

KhairulTort

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Your temperatures are good from what you report. The warm side 90° temperature is fine for a young sulcata. My enclosures regularly get into the mid 90°s every day.

Hard urates are not caused by calcium. It is a by-product of protein metabolism. With lack of hydration this is cumulative and the concentration of uric acid in the systems precipitates and forms the hard urates. I think you are seeing a flushing of the system by your increase of hydration now. Your young tortoise now is getting enough wter to flush its system more regularly and luckily the hard urates are still small enough to flush out as well.

It sounds like you are doing a great job. Keep up the soaks and do ensure the water is deep enough. I feel most people advise soaking in water too shallow. I like the water at least 1/2 way up the shell - to at least where the marginals meet the costals. This semi-boyancy created seems to help them and it also encourages a lot of scrambling around with is great exercise and also helps move things through their digestive tract. The soak also normally triggers a response tortoises have to dump the water they are retaining to refresh it with new water. That is their natural way to dramatically keep concentrations of metabolic waste low.

Thank you so much for the detailed information on your experiences and insights. I find it very interesting.

Thanks!
I'll definitely give him a nice deep soak tomorrow morning. It's a very interesting physiological response for a desert animal to have. I would've thought that maximum water retention would always be a priority for tortoises.
You can find reports of 19th century sailors using giant tortoises from the Seychelles and and the Galapogos as water storage units because of their amazing ability to hold up to a gallon of fresh water and remain alive for a year without food. Morbid stuff, but I wonder if Sulcatas can do the same thing? They do squirt a ton of liquid when they get scared ahaha.

I was a little concerned that the calcium powder I was adding might have been coming out the other end. You're probably right about it not being an issue. I'll start sprinkling some of the calcium on his food again in the next few days. Has anyone ever had problems with D3 additives in the calcium? He should be receiving D3 from his exo terra lighting too, so will it hurt to have it directly in the supplement as well?
I've read that goitrogenic glycoside from all the bok choy he's been fed can also lead to problems shedding, he's spent the last month with the skin on his head and neck progressively darkening and falling off. I hope this is normal and not some kind of burn or a symptom caused by it interfering with his skin or because of a D3 overdose.
 

wellington

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Thanks!
I'll definitely give him a nice deep soak tomorrow morning. It's a very interesting physiological response for a desert animal to have. I would've thought that maximum water retention would always be a priority for tortoises.
You can find reports of 19th century sailors using giant tortoises from the Seychelles and and the Galapogos as water storage units because of their amazing ability to hold up to a gallon of fresh water and remain alive for a year without food. Morbid stuff, but I wonder if Sulcatas can do the same thing? They do squirt a ton of liquid when they get scared ahaha.

I was a little concerned that the calcium powder I was adding might have been coming out the other end. You're probably right about it not being an issue. I'll start sprinkling some of the calcium on his food again in the next few days. Has anyone ever had problems with D3 additives in the calcium? He should be receiving D3 from his exo terra lighting too, so will it hurt to have it directly in the supplement as well?
I've read that goitrogenic glycoside from all the bok choy he's been fed can also lead to problems shedding, he's spent the last month with the skin on his head and neck progressively darkening and falling off. I hope this is normal and not some kind of burn or a symptom caused by it interfering with his skin or because of a D3 overdose.
Give a small pinch of calcium 2-3 times a week only. Too much is as bad as too little.
I would also still lower the 90 degree temp. Mark's tortoises are not started out in the kind of bad care yours received. The added high heat could play havoc against the hydrating this guy needs. 80-85 is high enough along with the basking temp. Just my opinion when keeping them in hot enclosures and not in the wild where there are more choices for cooler spots.
 
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