B-TFO-1 aka Chelonian History V

Kapidolo Farms

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B-TFO = Before the Tortoise Forum

I keep seeing what I perceive as a ever growing number of people who find ALL of their interest in chelonians (Turtles, tortoises, and terrapins) met by threads and posts here on TFO.

A well known herpetologist who teaches graduate students lamented once that all literature prior to the internet, is being lost to studies for lack of being readily accessible. I see what he means.

To that perception it seem calling this numbered series of threads "Chelonian History" has too much of a dusty feel to it, like you might be asked to read Shakespearean English, sorta funny in one way, but not in another.

It seems B-TFO might be sorta funny, and a better label. I'll drop the Roman numerals too. Before this installment I thought A quick recap would be helpful . . .

Chelonian History I - the sulcata produced by the Jamison's of Porterville CA, written by Bob and Judy Thomas in a CTTC Tortuga Gazette article.
http://tortoiseforum.org/thread-60691.html

Chelonian History II - a obit I wrote for Harold Carty, also published in the Tortuga Gazette.
http://tortoiseforum.org/thread-60804.html

Chelonian History III, two parts
Old VHS videos converted to digital - documenting some of the live animal trade in VietNam and China. Graphic upsetting images.
http://tortoiseforum.org/thread-75283.html
http://tortoiseforum.org/thread-75402.html

Chelonian History IV
A piece of my own history interacting with others concerning in-situ chelonian conservation. I'll seek to update the activities of some of those students here from time to time, most are still involved with ongoing conservation efforts.
http://tortoiseforum.org/thread-76245.html

So, B-TFO-1

Again a lazy offering, I did not write this some time ago or recently, it is entirely all about the link, leading to the primary "stop pyramiding" publication for the whole of tortoise keeping.
http://www.reptilechannel.com/turtles-and-tortoises/tortoise-care/pyramiding-in-tortoises.aspx
Tom is TFO's own resident "drum beater"* for the important message and his tireless work/writing to bring this concept to so many TFO readers one on one, and by open and explicit threads can not be underestimated for how many tortoises today are healthier.

Will

* drum beater sounds less vital than I seek to mean, but I fail to find a better word.
 

cdmay

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Very, very cool information! In response to the first link Chelonian History I, the one person I know who was breeding sulcatas over 25 years ago was Ellen Nicol of Anthony, Florida. Ellen and her husband Bob had a huge collection of turtles and tortoises and they were breeding things like crazy back in the early 70's when I first met her.
I don't remember who (or how) she obtained her original sulcatas from but I do know that they were a super rare tortoise to see in captivity at that time.
Ellen was also breeding the Australian snake neck turtle, Chelodina longicollis by the tub full every year when I was in high school in the late 70's. One wonders what happened to the hundreds of neonate longicollis she produced over the years???
Anyway, in addition to those species mentioned above the Nicols were regularly hatching such things as Beal's turtles, New Guinea snake-necks, Chinese box turtles, golden thread turtles, bog turtles, all kinds of Rhinoclemmys, tropical mud turtles, African side-necks (castaneus), countless American box turtles, red-footed tortoises, Bell's hingeback tortoises, and on and on. They were turtle keeping pioneers in the truest sense.
BTW, Ellen's first husband was the president and publisher of the old International Turtle and Tortoise Society Journal, I think his name was Robert Beatty.
 

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I love the title "drum beater". Accurate and descriptive. I don't like to be given credit for "discovering" this stuff. As cdmay once pointed out, they have been using these methods since the 60s with some species. I spent nearly 20 years frustrated over my failure to produce a smooth, wild-looking baby from any of the "desert" species, despite following all the best tortoise advice the world's experts had to offer. (Well, at least the ones I could find). It was a complete mystery to me and I nearly quit the tortoise game because of it. I DID quit leopard tortoises, and even though I kept my few sulcatas, I had mentally checked out and decided that I would not get anymore tortoises until SOMEONE figured out the problem. Fife published his "Leopard Tortoise" book in 2007 and that was right after I had taken a trip to New Orleans where I saw my first truly smooth CB sulcata. Not surprisingly, it was large for its age. Remember that in the old days we thought slow growth would prevent pyramiding. Of course it didn't, so the size of this one coupled with the smoothness was particularly striking to me. This pet store had a clutch mate of this one in the back in the normal reptile section that was "normal" size and had the "normal" pyramiding too. The big smooth one was raised outside in the Southern heat, rain and humidity. The clutch mate was raised indoors on rabbit pellets with no water bowl and a hot basking lamp. THIS day is when the light bulb in my head finally went "DING!!!". I found Fife's book shortly after that, and found Daisy, my first "hot humid method" guinea pig shortly after that. The rest is history, but many people contributed bits of info and help along the way. Our own RedfootNerd is the one who told me about the shell spraying that had been working on his Redfoots for years. My friend Tomas form Senegal explained to me how the seasons and conditions work "over there" for sulcatas and their hatchlings. My friend Dean demonstrated to me that frequent and long soaks are good for sulcatas, and coupled with Tomas' info, the soaks are apparently something very "natural" for baby sulcatas. I even talked on the phone with Richard Fife about humidity, diet, protein and more. It's been a long journey and I'm happy that sharing it has helped some tortoises.

Thanks for this link Will. This article was one of my early influences down this path.
 

Sulcata_Sandy

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Thank you for posting. I will definitely read. One of our referral DVMs has a 60 lb Sulcata he obtained has a hatchling 30 years ago. I've known about him for awhile, as I am always his anesthetist when he comes for surgeries. Guess what we talk about. LOL

Ironically, he told me he was in New Orleans with a friend, who was on vacation and getting a hatchling there. Dr Faulkner thought it would be fun to get one as well. I've not seen him, now I really want to so I can examine the carapace. Tom, can you share where you saw that smooth CB Sully?

Dr Faulkner shared two interesting old articles on tortoises (Tortoise Tracks 1991) and a clipping from The Zoological Society of London 1989.

I've been meaning to scan them and email to anyone here that would like a copy. The latter is specifically on Sulcata and discusses controlled studies on diet, husbandry, etc.
Much has changed in what we knew about them since 1989.
 

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Will, thank you for the history and information you've provided. Although not as scientifically as others here, I have a keen interest on the smoothness of the carapaces of my own tortoises.

Before I joined TFO, I raised a semi-aquatic turtle for 25 years. In all those years, I have never noticed semi-aquatic turtles pyramiding. Naturally, after joining TFO and learning about pyramiding from Tom and others, I began to wonder if humidity and moisture WAS the primary reason why I've not noticed pyramiding of carapaces in semi-aquatics.

Additionally, before joining TFO, for the first 8 months of my first two sulcatas' lives, I've made all the traditional mistakes one could make raising those babies. Before I even knew what pyramiding was, I began to notice the carapaces of my sullies were looking "bumpy." This led me to investigate online why this was happening, among other things.

Since joining TFO, I began to read and learn more about pyramiding in tortoises. This has led to my specific interest in metabolic bone disease (MBD) in salcatas. I received a rescued sulcata that was three years old and weighed 4 ounces. She had MBD and had a deformed backbone which prevented her from sticking her neck out for food on the ground. I started documenting observations I've had with her, and recorded any progress or failures I've had with her.

Of course, these observations are not scientific by any means, and there isn't "n" amount of specimens by which to make any credible conclusions; however, what I've observed thus far with my "special needs" tortoise, and the progress she has made, is exciting to say the least.
 

Tom

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Don't remember the name of the Pet Store but it was near the Harrahan area of New Orleans. Within 15 minutes or so of my hotel which was in Harrahan. It was staffed by a bunch of kids who didn't even know what pyramiding was. They had no idea how special that tortoise was.
 

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cdmay said:
Very, very cool information! In response to the first link Chelonian History I, the one person I know who was breeding sulcatas over 25 years ago was Ellen Nicol of Anthony, Florida. Ellen and her husband Bob had a huge collection of turtles and tortoises and they were breeding things like crazy back in the early 70's when I first met her.
I don't remember who (or how) she obtained her original sulcatas from but I do know that they were a super rare tortoise to see in captivity at that time.
Ellen was also breeding the Australian snake neck turtle, Chelodina longicollis by the tub full every year when I was in high school in the late 70's. One wonders what happened to the hundreds of neonate longicollis she produced over the years???
Anyway, in addition to those species mentioned above the Nicols were regularly hatching such things as Beal's turtles, New Guinea snake-necks, Chinese box turtles, golden thread turtles, bog turtles, all kinds of Rhinoclemmys, tropical mud turtles, African side-necks (castaneus), countless American box turtles, red-footed tortoises, Bell's hingeback tortoises, and on and on. They were turtle keeping pioneers in the truest sense.
BTW, Ellen's first husband was the president and publisher of the old International Turtle and Tortoise Society Journal, I think his name was Robert Beatty.

100% all as I have heard it from other first hand accounts. A few of those longicollis made it to the Philly zoo. B-TFO, funny in so many ways. Will
 

TommyZ

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Sheesh Will, every time you post I find I add more stuff to my homework list, lol. Thanks for sharing. Videos were for sure hard to watch, but, reality is typically less than pleaseant. I saw all those faces of death movies when i was a kid, (not to my mothers knowledge), and this sort of rang a bell. Thanks to you and other seasoned vets, newbies like myself with passion and desire to learn, will learn correctly. Also, more experienced folks can learn and change old, incorrect ways. As great a resource as TFO is, there is still a wealth of knowledge to be found in peer reviewed works, and other texts and books as well. Thanks for sharing your experiences with us, please keep them coming, sir.

Tom
 

AZtortMom

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Thank you so much sharing. I love reading all this information [SMILING FACE WITH OPEN MOUTH]
 

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I think now is as good as time to announce, brag..what have you....

Veterinary Partner.com...aka VIN (veterinary information network) asked me to edit their very outdated Sulcata article.


VIN is a veterinarian owned and operated information network. You must be a licensed DVM or VMD to join. There is also VSPN that you must be a veterinary professional to join. Veterinary Partner is the animal version of WebMd for owners and veterinary professionals to seek advice on care.

I've been a long time member and supporter of VSPN. My hospital uses VIN for up to date info...(it's a forum like our TFO).

So, I need everyone's help in updating the Sulcata care article. I will need references...Tom....can you help and include your specific experience. Do you have a name, like Ivory that Richard Fife has?

Any articles or studies I can quote?

I am having two experienced tortoise DVMs review before I send my final edit to VIN.

Here is the current, terribly outdated article.........
http://www.veterinarypartner.com/Content.plx?P=A&S=0&C=0&A=1260

If you contribute, you will receive full credit.

Please feel free to search veterinary partner.com for more reptile article that need updating. The editor told me she knows all the reptile articles are long overdue for updates. I can coordinate those if you can help.
 

Cowboy_Ken

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And she passed out? Hey, I know of dr. Faulkner. I also know of the only RVT he'll have assist him here at the clinic I have associations with. Oh I'm sure stories could be swapped. Where's the article?
 

Sulcata_Sandy

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Cowboy_Ken said:
And she passed out? Hey, I know of dr. Faulkner. I also know of the only RVT he'll have assist him here at the clinic I have associations with. Oh I'm sure stories could be swapped. Where's the article?

I have it in print :)
 

Kapidolo Farms

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Some further thoughts on the humid concept. In the 1998 Reptiles Annual - Andy Highfield wrote "Hatchlings in the wild typically spend a great deal of time in scrapes, pallets, or burrows, where the local humidity is far higher than that of the surrounding air."

His point in relating this was to reduce bladder stones, another result of poor hydration.

In the 'coming out' article for Ivory sulcatas R, Fife wrote in 2001, he showed a one year old Ivory that is bowling ball smooth.

So why Melissa Kaplan wrote the pellet paragraph I do not know, Highfield used the field work of Mike Lambert from a 1993 article published in Chelonian Conservation and Biology to inform himself for the article he wrote. High Five to Highfield on that one. Kaplan used a 1988 IHS proceedings article by Stearns, I actually don't have that year. Can't tell what is in it that may have informed Kaplan.

Sandy, you might seek the direct input of Tomas Diagne.

The same year, 1998, I found a TFH Reptile Hobbyist article by Ellen Nicole about her success with four eyed turtles. But I'll keep my tortoise myopia in these B-TFO's.

Will
 

Tom

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The thing that bugs me about Highfield is that he wrote a very insulting essay calling the humidity thing a "red herring" and comparing the people who have had favorable results from using high humidity to grow smooth tortoises to people who believe in UFOs. Then, (not sure of the time frame, but I think it was a couple of years later) he writes another essay retracting what he'd originally said and admitting that there is some validity to the whole grow them smooth with the high humidity thing, after having several long conversations with Ed Pirog. Meanwhile, as far as I know, he's never raised a smooth sulcata or leopard with ANY method.
 

cdmay

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The Fife article is a good one and I agree with what he says. However as has been pointed out above, even when he published his experiences it wasn't 'new' information per se. There were others (not me) way back when who had figured out the humidity connection to pyramiding but never had an outlet to publish their findings.

Also, Fife makes this statement that is often overlooked or simply glossed over by many keepers...
"Pyramiding doesn’t pose a problem for the tortoise unless dietary deficiencies are also present and have contributed to the pyramiding" Italics mine. Fife is 100% correct here.

I (as well as many others) have found that diet does indeed play a part in pyramiding although maybe not a great a part as humidity.
You can find countless tortoises raised outdoors in humid south Florida that have access to humid hide/shelters and yet are still lumpy.
Here is an otherwise very pretty animal I found this summer at the Daytona Expo. It is seven years old and was raised outside in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. As evidence of the humid conditions it was raised under notice the fungal infestation that extended to the lower carapace.





Some of the other similarly sized animals that had been brought to the show and that had been raised along with this male were equally, if not more pyramided. The same fungal condition existed on them as well. All of the animals in this group showed signs of long term fungal problems that included eroded scutes and deep pitting.

Another view before treatment was begun...



Here is a side view showing the distorted carapace. It isn't terrible but clearly isn't normal either.
The fungal issues have been treated aggressively and are no longer evident although the older damage will remain.



The point in all of this is that there is clearly some other factor(s) besides humidity that can at times influence pyramiding. Fife knew this and said so but that fact is often dismissed.
 

Kapidolo Farms

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Cdmay, wow, that is a rich red on that tortoise.

Tom, Highfield does seem to be bouncy in his POV.

On the "show us your leopards" thread I just posted many new images of wild leos, some that had pyramided in their life, some not, none to a extreme extent. I posted other images of wild tents on "other African tortoises" thread too. One geometric there is pretty highly pyramided, another almost not at all, same place/population likely related at some level.

Pyramiding takes on a few different forms as well. 1 over all growth is even, all the centrals and coastals are uniformly pyramided, 2 over all growth is even, centrals are pyramided, coastals are very near normal, 3 pyramiding mostly confined to the trailing half of the third central and leading half of the fourth central.

These all indicate to me that pyramided is a varible response/result along some sort of gradient? Like with people being overweight, a little is very different than alot, yet it is still too much food, not enough activity. The pyramiding is the result of an imbalance, to much of some things not enough of others. Environmental humidity would seem to take the analogous role of food intake, it has a huge influence, but not so huge it will compensate for other aspects that become distant to other optimal requirements.

I know of many slender people who are not fit at all, and some who are overweight, that are very fit, otherwise.

Cdmay, is it possible to get some better idea of your longer ago experience?

Will
 

Yvonne G

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My sister and I have always said that there are 4 things that contribute to pyramiding. Of course, the moisture/humidity factor is the top condition, but diet, exercise and heat/sun are the other three.
 

cdmay

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Will said:
Cdmay, wow, that is a rich red on that tortoise.

Tom, Highfield does seem to be bouncy in his POV.

On the "show us your leopards" thread I just posted many new images of wild leos, some that had pyramided in their life, some not, none to a extreme extent. I posted other images of wild tents on "other African tortoises" thread too. One geometric there is pretty highly pyramided, another almost not at all, same place/population likely related at some level.

Pyramiding takes on a few different forms as well. 1 over all growth is even, all the centrals and coastals are uniformly pyramided, 2 over all growth is even, centrals are pyramided, coastals are very near normal, 3 pyramiding mostly confined to the trailing half of the third central and leading half of the fourth central.

These all indicate to me that pyramided is a varible response/result along some sort of gradient? Like with people being overweight, a little is very different than alot, yet it is still too much food, not enough activity. The pyramiding is the result of an imbalance, to much of some things not enough of others. Environmental humidity would seem to take the analogous role of food intake, it has a huge influence, but not so huge it will compensate for other aspects that become distant to other optimal requirements.

I know of many slender people who are not fit at all, and some who are overweight, that are very fit, otherwise.

Cdmay, is it possible to get some better idea of your longer ago experience?

Will

Will, actually that tortoise is tangerine orange but my camera...

Agree about the wild leopards. Jim Buskirk was in South Africa, Namibia, and elsewhere a couple of years ago and photographed numerous wild leopards as well as some of the other S.A. tortoise gems. Many of the animals he sent me photos of were naturally pyramided and would make a lot of keepers pee in their pants with worry if they were their tortoises. But as you mentioned, it seems to be a natural phenomena with them.
You are probably also correct about it being a variable condition.

As for experiences of long ago all I can tell you is that tortoises of numerous species that I raised outdoors were pretty much perfect looking. But when keepers I knew started feeding a lot of dog food to their omnivorous species the shells of those animals would look screwed up. Don't know the exact reason but it happened.
 

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cdmay said:
Will said:
Cdmay, wow, that is a rich red on that tortoise.

Tom, Highfield does seem to be bouncy in his POV.

On the "show us your leopards" thread I just posted many new images of wild leos, some that had pyramided in their life, some not, none to a extreme extent. I posted other images of wild tents on "other African tortoises" thread too. One geometric there is pretty highly pyramided, another almost not at all, same place/population likely related at some level.

Pyramiding takes on a few different forms as well. 1 over all growth is even, all the centrals and coastals are uniformly pyramided, 2 over all growth is even, centrals are pyramided, coastals are very near normal, 3 pyramiding mostly confined to the trailing half of the third central and leading half of the fourth central.

These all indicate to me that pyramided is a varible response/result along some sort of gradient? Like with people being overweight, a little is very different than alot, yet it is still too much food, not enough activity. The pyramiding is the result of an imbalance, to much of some things not enough of others. Environmental humidity would seem to take the analogous role of food intake, it has a huge influence, but not so huge it will compensate for other aspects that become distant to other optimal requirements.

I know of many slender people who are not fit at all, and some who are overweight, that are very fit, otherwise.

Cdmay, is it possible to get some better idea of your longer ago experience?

Will

Will, actually that tortoise is tangerine orange but my camera...

Agree about the wild leopards. Jim Buskirk was in South Africa, Namibia, and elsewhere a couple of years ago and photographed numerous wild leopards as well as some of the other S.A. tortoise gems. Many of the animals he sent me photos of were naturally pyramided and would make a lot of keepers pee in their pants with worry if they were their tortoises. But as you mentioned, it seems to be a natural phenomena with them.
You are probably also correct about it being a variable condition.

As for experiences of long ago all I can tell you is that tortoises of numerous species that I raised outdoors were pretty much perfect looking. But when keepers I knew started feeding a lot of dog food to their omnivorous species the shells of those animals would look screwed up. Don't know the exact reason but it happened.
Unless Jim went a 2nd time since 2009, that was the same 2009 trip I put together for myself, Jim, and Reza, In 2009 we did not go to Namibia. Will
 

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cdmay, that is a gorgeous RF.

I whole heartedly agree with you, Richard, Maggie and Yvonne that humidity is not the only cause/factor in pyramiding. There is still much for us to learn about this.

I do want to comment about pyramiding in "wild" tortoises. We had a person from Africa join and become a member here a while back. They phrased it something like this: (paraphrasing) Define wild. There really is no "wild" left in Africa. People have been moving tortoises around and messing with things for centuries. There are few parts of Africa that aren't heavily influenced by people.

Example: Bill Love did a wild radiata presentation at last years TTPG conference. He showed pics of several pyramided "wild" radiata that had been snacking on the farmers crops and the opuntia fruits that grew on the opuntia cactus that encircled the farmers fields to keep the wildlife out. I had a similar observation when I was working in South Africa for several months. The locals there find baby tortoises, raise them in captive environments and then turn them loose in "wild" areas when they tire of them or they get too big. One guy even had an old book from here in the states that told him all about how to house baby tortoise dry on dry substrate to prevent respiratory infections and shell rot. The book suggested sand or rabbit pellets as a substrate. This was 2005, so I had not yet had my personal humidity/hydration "breakthrough".
 
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