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Tom

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This has come up a lot lately and I want to try to give a better, more thorough explanation.

Tortoises are solitary animals by nature. Few species congregate together in the wild and individuals are seldom seen in the company of others. There are exceptions, like pancakes. Out of practicality, convenience and sometimes necessity, we sometimes keep more than one in an enclosure in captivity. As conscientious keepers, we must understand, and take into consideration, the ramifications of this. Many breeders strive for groups of single males and 2-4 females. Others keep larger groups of mixed sexes in large pens. Usually this works out, but sometimes not.

It is, and always has been, common for the casual pet owner to buy just two. Often they are hatchlings, but sometimes they are older. I see this as a common problem, and wish to prevent it wherever possible. Occasionally, having a pair will work out satisfactorily, but most of the time, one or the other suffers for this ill-advised, unnatural situation. Here is why: All living beings have different "personalities". Some are more boisterous, outgoing and unafraid. Some are more timid, shy and fearful. Every tortoise alive falls somewhere in this very wide spectrum. Please note that I'm not even getting into territoriality and aggression yet. Whenever we put two animals together they are always at different points on this spectrum. The "weaker" one will always feel intimidated by the "stronger" one and will wish to leave the area of the more dominant animal. Our enclosure, no matter how big, prevents this, and forces the more timid submissive to live in fear every day. Occasionally they simply desensitize and survive, even though it is stressful. Sometimes they fail to thrive and eventually die. Either way it is not good. This situation is made all the more serious if the more dominant one actually bullies or intentionally intimidates the other one. But understand that neither of them has to actually DO anything for this to take place. Just the presence of the other is enough to cause substantial stress in a one on one situation.

Now I know that there are exceptions and that lots of people keep pairs together and everything seems fine. I have done this in the past too. If the two animals involved happen to be close together on that dominance spectrum, AND not territorial or aggressive, they stand a much better chance of getting along for a while, and this is probably the case for some of the people who will say that their pair of tortoises is fine together. I am simply saying that it is asking for trouble, and most of the time, trouble is what you get. Clearly this is less of an issue with some species like redfoots and leopards. But it can be a very serious issue with more aggressive species like russians or sulcatas. It is a situation that is best avoided by having just one tortoise to an enclosure, OR having a group of three or more in an appropriate enclosure. Having MORE than two tortoises in an enclosure changes this dynamic drastically. By adding another tortoise or two, any subtle aggression is spread out over multiple individuals vs. focused all on one. Remember the dominant animal WANTS the submissive to leave as much as the submissive wants to leave himself. When the submissive fails to leave, despite being clearly told to in tortoise language, the dominant will usually increase his efforts. When there are multiple submissives the aggressor either divides up his aggression, or often gives up the tactic as hopeless since he is "surrounded" by so many. An example: For a short time I had Scooter, my adult male sulcata and Delores, my adult female sulcata alone together in a giant 7000 sq. ft. pen. He hunted for her all day every day and bred her 10-15 times a day. He was obsessed and she was suffering. She ended up hiding all day, and I had to take her food to her secret hiding spots. Luckily, I was given two additional adult females and as soon as they were introduced, the attention was off of Delores. He was enamored with the new girls and after a few days everything settled down. Now, he breeds 2 or 3 times a day TOTAL, as opposed to 10-15 times a day with one female. Because he has females and movement all around him all the time, he seems to feel less of a sense of urgency and not so obsessed. It is pretty peaceful in there now and everybody explores and grazes freely. They usually hang out together voluntarily and eat together too, even though they have the option to be far away from each other and out if sight.

Another example: When I went to pick up Scooter as a hatchling in 1998, Walter Allen generously gave me a second tortoise for free. I was ecstatic. I named her Bertha because she was quiet and shy and behaved very "female-like" to me. I raised the two of them together for about two years before I was given Delores. For around 8 or 9 years I was convinced that Bertha, the second free tortoise, was a female. "She" had no plastron concavity, tiny gulars, a very small head, a small tail and the anal scutes were right in the middle. "Her" behavior was also very typically female. Scooter bred "her" and Deloris constantly from the time they were all 4-5 years old. I was sure I had a 1.2 group and that all would be fine. As they hit maturity, or as "Bertha" hit maturity, I realized that I was wrong and I had a problem on my hands. Bertha was really Bert. Scooter was much bigger and always more dominant and active. Bert was so intimidated and chronically stressed as a hatchling and a juvenile that he failed to develop his secondary sexual characteristics. Bert has a great pen on the other side of the ranch now and is quite happy to be alone and away from Scooters tyranny. If they ever got together again, it would be a fight to the death.

To recap: Yes, I know it is not the end of the world and an instant death sentence to keep two tortoises together. But it IS a bad idea. At best it is a compromise, and a tenuous one at that. Many people do it and get away with it, but it is often just a question of time until the luck runs out. There are lots of example's of this here on the forum. As a tortoise owner, I want to give them the best possible chance at success and house them the best way possible. To me, this means not keeping them in pairs.

Discussion is welcome, but I will state ahead of time that for everyone who comes on with a story about a pair doing fine together, it can be countered with a lot more stories of a pairs that "seemed" fine together for a while, but really weren't fine, or pairs that ended in injury or death.
 

Clownspur

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Good read...good info...i am planning on posting about my two tortoises later in the month and after reading this I will have to add a third soon.
 

Neltharion

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Tom said:
having a group of three or more in an appropriate enclosure. Having MORE than two tortoises in an enclosure changes this dynamic drastically. By adding another tortoise or two, any subtle aggression is spread out over multiple individuals vs. focused all on one.

That is definitely true and has worked well for me.

Curious though, have you ever seen or heard of a situation where one tort was the low man on the totem pole and was harassed by multiple torts? I know this happens with some species of birds and fish (some cichlids).
 

Yvonne G

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Since this is in the debatable section, I'll offer a couple penny's worth.

Most people don't have room for more than one sulcata. If they happen to have two, they certainly don't have room for three.

In my opinion, it would be better to encourage someone to re-home one of the pair rather than encourage them to make it three tortoises.

Taking redfoots out of the equation, tortoises would much rather be alone than with a partner or in a group. Its not natural to house more than one tortoise in one habitat. In the wild you will never see two tortoises together unless they're breeding.

I think the reason people have two sulcatas is because they were cheap to buy as hatchlings and they have the mind-set that the baby would be lonesome without another tortoise. So my thought on the subject is to try to change people's idea of why they want two tortoises, and teach them that tortoises can be happy as an only child.
 

Jacqui

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Just for the record, I do indeed have a few animals currently in pair situations and have also in the past and yes, I don't have problems. I believe part of this is due to large enclosures with lots of plants, hides, valleys/mountains, logs and other visual barriers.

I think we put a lot of pressure on a new keeper to get three tortoises. It may sound good on paper, but is it really? Are these folks getting another one JUST to hope to ward off possible problems which in reality they may never experience? Do they really want or have the ability to cope with an additional animal?

For instance, if we tell them, "Hey you have only two hatchling sulcata, for the sake of your tortoises (which reads if your a good keeper you will do this) go get a third one". While, with luck they may have room for three hatchlings, how many of them really have the room or money even to invest in keeping and housing three once they become adults? Heck, not even by the time they are adults, in reality they will cut the time these three will be able to be housed in a small enclosure dramatically. So much for those folks thinking they will be "safe" housing their tortoises for a few years before they have to move into their own homes with those large yards.

Be fair, how many folks have large enough yards to easily house three adult sulcata? For most, a yard for two is often pushing it.

Looking down the road, what if they end up with two males and a female? Is that not worse, then if they have only two and atleast will have two males, two females, or an actual pair? Won't any of those pair combinations normally have less stress then two males to one female? We know how stressed a female can get with one male always sexually after her, poor female with two stands no chances at all. Not even to mention the two males fighting each other over the female. Or at this point is it fair to the humans to expect they will willing give up one of their beloved and treasured family members?

I, myself think for the average person (who has hatchlings especially since the sex is unknown), if you can not in the future house all three in a roomy enough enclosure or house them in three completely separate enclosures, your better off with not getting a third animal. If you have two and they don't get along, THEN you can decide to separate them or get another one. Much easier to find the room for two enclosures then for three.

Why are we "counting our chickens before they hatch" as the saying goes. Not all groups of two have problems. Why not instead advise them of the future risks to be looking for without pushing them to right now get a third animal? After all, with two they may not have problems, some do get lucky.

...just my own personal thoughts
 

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You are suggesting that it's better to have 3 or more so that the aggression, or bullying, of one tortoise is spread out to two or more tortoises correct? If I understand you correctly, I would then have to assume, instead of one tortoise being totally stressed out you would have two tortoises moderately stressed out. I would imagine if the aggressor feels the need to defend his territory, that tortoise would be stressed as well, so you would really have 3 or more tortoises with stress levels above that which they would experience if they were on their own. I understand your logic of thinking, in that it is better to have them moderately stressed than completely stressed, but I'm going to have to disagree that keeping tortoises in pairs is inherently a bad thing.

I think it has more to do with proper husbandry and properly designed enclosures than it does with the number of animals you have. There're too many factors to consider when a pair of tortoises are kept together, where one is not doing as well as the other. If I kept a pair together, and noticed one appeared more stressed than the other, I would first consider the space I have available for them, then move on to the number and types of hiding places available, is feeding them together stressing them out, do I need to add more sight blocking objects, etc...I would do all this before considering adding an additional animal into an aggressive environment.

We could probably go back and forth forever and share experiences where it has or hasn't worked out, but I just wanted to throw my thoughts into the pot here, that when observing a pair of tortoises where one is obviously stressed, I don't think it's a simple matter of adding another tortoise to solve the issue, there may be other contributing factors as well that, if rectified, would yield a more favorable outcome.
 

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I'm glad that I read this. I was thinking about getting a second Russian. I know now that that's not such a good idea.
 

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Speaking mainly on Northern Mediterranean Testudo species, I have rarely ever seen or heard of a situation where keeping pairs ends up good in the long run. The exception would be two females. For the most part they always seem to get along although more often than not, one will become the dominate of the two and actually often go through male courting rituals such as ramming and mounting and to a lesser extent, biting. It's usually with much less focus and vigor than a would be with a male/female combination. Two males or a male/female are usually fine together until one of the males reaches sexual maturity. Once this takes place, as continues to constantly get disscussed on the forum, "all hell breaks loose". Most male Testudo of any species have an unyeilding drive to defend they're perceived territory. It's rarely a matter of if this is going to happen, but when with Testudo. Obviously, a larger enclosure area helps immensely but I haven't come across anyone yet that can provide the same area that the tortoise would be accustomed to in the wild. So is what we provide big enough to lessen the aggression? Probably not.

Generally, most of the examples I have heard, especially on this site, about two tortoises of the same species living peacefully together you soon find out are either two females or more often, tortoises that are not yet sexually mature.

As far as pushing people to get a third tortoise, I try not to phrase it that way but instead say: "Well here are your best options; either keep just one, be prepared to keep the two seperate all the time or get a second and/or third female to take the aggression pressure off each individual female. Understand that more tortoises means more space needs to be devoted more spent on additional resources."

At no time do I think or would I suggest that it is a good idea to add a female to two existing males or a male to an existing male/female pair. This will just increase aggression in the dominate male.

Again, I'm just referring to Testudo. In the late 80's-early 90's I kept a group of 3.6 large Redfoots together without a single aggression issue. They seem to be a much more "group friendly" species, at least in my experience. Others may have a different experience with them. Any other species I had at the time (Elongateds, Pancakes, Leopards & Bell's Hingebacks) I had trios of 1.2 and their seemed to be no serious aggression issues with them either. On the contrary I also had 2.1 Speckled Cape tortoises and you couldn't even let the males see each other or they would become instantly aggitated!

I think when many people are first getting into the tortoise hobby they make purchases based on human experience and not on animal nature. They believe that tortoises "get lonely", "need a friend", etc... In the case of wild caught Russian tortoises that are the current pet shop staple, the majority of them are males. So more often than not once they become acclimated to their surroundings in the hands of their new owners a dominance order is soon established and owners can't figure out why their tortoises "hate" each other.

Unfortunately, quite often the tortoises have already been purchased by the time the owners find a forum like TFO. Rather than obtaining the information as to why two tortoises may not be good together they are are asking why their tortoises are fighting with each other and what to do to stop it. At that point giving up one tortoise may not be an option to them. The solution then becomes either seperate or expand!
 

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Tortoises are generally solitary animals, however I think species should be a serious caveat to this discussion. Originally I was planning on only one cherryhead redfoot, but was encouraged that a pair of cherryhead RF hatchlings would be a good idea, contrary to the statement(s) made above. No issues that I've seen so far, but who knows what the future holds? Given your position, Tom, I have made a beginners mistake in tortoise husbandry.
 

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Jacqui said:
After all, with two they may not have problems, some do get lucky.

Let me offer a couple of points of clarification of my point of view, based on the comments so far.

1. I am not only talking about sulcatas. This relates to all species.
2. I am not advocating anyone getting multiple tortoises or multiple sulcatas, in fact I think a single tortoise IS the best option for most people and tortoises.
3. I AM saying that if someone MUST have more than one tortoise, that a pair in one enclosure is the worst way to go.
4. I am saying that a trio is a better option than a pair or a better option than relying on "some do get lucky", as Jacqui noted.
5. The idea of adding a third tortoise is not to divide the aggression between more tortoises, it is to change the dynamics of the group. Having multiple animals sometimes calms the whole situation, as in my example. And I stated I was not even talking about cases of overt aggression. I am talking more about the common situation of juveniles or hatchlings being paired off.


Redstrike said:
Tortoises are generally solitary animals, however I think species should be a serious caveat to this discussion. Originally I was planning on only one cherryhead redfoot, but was encouraged that a pair of cherryhead RF hatchlings would be a good idea, contrary to the statement(s) made above. No issues that I've seen so far, but who knows what the future holds? Given your position, Tom, I have made a beginners mistake in tortoise husbandry.

I didn't phrase it that way and it is not intended to offend. But I do think your cherry heads would be better housed individually or in a small group.

The point of this thread is to help people and tortoises through sharing my experiences and observations. I would rather try to prevent problems than have to deal with the after math after they have occurred.
 

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Tom said:
Jacqui said:
After all, with two they may not have problems, some do get lucky.

Let me offer a couple of points of clarification of my point of view, based on the comments so far.

1. I am not only talking about sulcatas. This relates to all species.
2. I am not advocating anyone getting multiple tortoises or multiple sulcatas, in fact I think a single tortoise IS the best option for most people and tortoises.
3. I AM saying that if someone MUST have more than one tortoise, that a pair in one enclosure is the worst way to go.
4. I am saying that a trio is a better option than a pair or a better option than relying on "some do get lucky", as Jacqui noted.
5. The idea of adding a third tortoise is not to divide the aggression between more tortoises, it is to change the dynamics of the group. Having multiple animals sometimes calms the whole situation, as in my example. And I stated I was not even talking about cases of overt aggression. I am talking more about the common situation of juveniles or hatchlings being paired off.


Redstrike said:
Tortoises are generally solitary animals, however I think species should be a serious caveat to this discussion. Originally I was planning on only one cherryhead redfoot, but was encouraged that a pair of cherryhead RF hatchlings would be a good idea, contrary to the statement(s) made above. No issues that I've seen so far, but who knows what the future holds? Given your position, Tom, I have made a beginners mistake in tortoise husbandry.

I didn't phrase it that way and it is not intended to offend. But I do think your cherry heads would be better housed individually or in a small group.

The point of this thread is to help people and tortoises through sharing my experiences and observations. I would rather try to prevent problems than have to deal with the after math after they have occurred.





No offense taken, just wondering why I'd be encouraged to get a pair if others have seen issues. My wording was a bit ambiguous.

I hope they do get along nicely, I'm not sure I can afford 3 or more at this point...2 will have to do.
 

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Good Thread...I've been thinking about something similiar. I thought by having more than one tortoise encourages them to feed more (Competition for food). And when a tortoise is solo; it tends to eat less and is more vulnerable to becoming ill. I guess the real question is: Are we going to keep a tortoise for the sake of having one? Or do you want to breed? I know personally If I ever get an Aldabra or a Galapagos...Im only keeping one.
 

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Tom said:
Let me offer a couple of points of clarification of my point of view, based on the comments so far.

1. I am not only talking about sulcatas. This relates to all species.

My general comments were about all species too, BUT then I went into sulcata due to their obvious size as adults. That being said the added size of enclosure needed when adding more tortoises, is still an issue wih many folks actually it could be more of an issue with somebody who has a smaller tortoise, such as a Redfoot even something small like a Russian and needs to house them inside.

Tom said:
2. I am not advocating anyone getting multiple tortoises or multiple sulcatas, in fact I think a single tortoise IS the best option for most people and tortoises.

This I will agree with you on. While I will admit to be a bit of a two face person at this point due to the fact that if I am raising hatchlings, I personally want more then one to have them be a bi challenged by another tortoise(s) so they seem to thrive better.

Tom said:
3. I AM saying that if someone MUST have more than one tortoise, that a pair in one enclosure is the worst way to go.

Here is where I disagree. I think we need to see each situation as a separate occurrence and judge the various options that fit that unique set of circumstances accordingly.

Tom said:
4. I am saying that a trio is a better option than a pair or a better option than relying on "some do get lucky", as Jacqui noted.

Sorry I guess using that term was a bad choice, thank you for pointing that out. For the reasons given before, I think going with a trio can be worse then going with just a pair, when talking hatchlings or undetermined sex. IF your positive of the gender of all three tortoises, then yes usually overall a trio is usually better (IF you do have the added space). Even then you do have individual tortoises who love to throw out all the standard behavior rules. Such as the instance when with three tortoises, you have one whom everybody picks on.

Tom said:
5. The idea of adding a third tortoise is not to divide the aggression between more tortoises, it is to change the dynamics of the group. Having multiple animals sometimes calms the whole situation, as in my example. And I stated I was not even talking about cases of overt aggression. I am talking more about the common situation of juveniles or hatchlings being paired off.

Just to be clear, what dynamic is needing to be changed, if you are in no way talking of aggression or bullying? I will agree adding a tortoise to ANY group, no matter the number in that group will change the dynamics. The problem being you can never be sure exactly in what way it will change things. You can make an "educated" guess, but we are talking living animals, which means each one is an individual open to doing the unexpected.

Tom said:
The point of this thread is to help people and tortoises through sharing my experiences and observations. I would rather try to prevent problems than have to deal with the after math after they have occurred.

Personally I would rather work with what a person has or wants, then to add more animals before, IF EVEN there is ever a needed to try to get the group dynamics changed. Why fix what is not broken and which in the attempt to fix, we may do more damage?

I think we first need to stop and see if we can change our husbandry techniques before adding to a group. The aftermath I fear more, is having folks in situations where they must give up their loved pets because they got more animals and that has caused group dynamics to go totally out the window. I think adding more, should be a last resort.

To make experiences clear for those who do not know, tho I do indeed mainly work with the hingebacks, I also have redfoot/cherryheads, Leopards, Russians, Stars, along with a few emys emys, sulcata, Greeks, Hermanns, and a scattering of turtles. I have had other species also in the past. In my comments, I am using experiences and observations from all the species, unless comments are made about a specific tortoise and stated as such. :D
 

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This is an interesting thread. Glad to see both sides of the debate. Being a fairly new tortoise owner it is a bit of a dilemma to decide the way to go. It seems if someone gets a few hatchlings at once they must be willing to let one/some of them go when they get older, which might be hard to do after you've become attached to them. If you want to breed them some day, there is the concern of them all being related. If you try to get hatchlings from different gene pools, and raise them together, then you should probably quarantine them for awhile with each new addition and that takes a lot more effort than keeping them together. Then you may be faced with what sex they are and still have to let some go. If you start with unrelated adults you will miss out on the fun of raising the hatchlings and knowing that they have been raised in a healthy way from the start. I just don't see any clear cut answers.
 

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Tortuga_terrestre said:
Good Thread...I've been thinking about something similiar. I thought by having more than one tortoise encourages them to feed more (Competition for food). And when a tortoise is solo; it tends to eat less and is more vulnerable to becoming ill. I guess the real question is: Are we going to keep a tortoise for the sake of having one? Or do you want to breed? I know personally If I ever get an Aldabra or a Galapagos...Im only keeping one.

Singles have always done well for me. In fact they usually do better most of the time. Tico comes to mind. Nelson. Bob. There are lots of good examples...
 

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DesertGrandma said:
This is an interesting thread. Glad to see both sides of the debate. Being a fairly new tortoise owner it is a bit of a dilemma to decide the way to go. It seems if someone gets a few hatchlings at once they must be willing to let one/some of them go when they get older, which might be hard to do after you've become attached to them. If you want to breed them some day, there is the concern of them all being related. If you try to get hatchlings from different gene pools, and raise them together, then you should probably quarantine them for awhile with each new addition and that takes a lot more effort than keeping them together. Then you may be faced with what sex they are and still have to let some go. If you start with unrelated adults you will miss out on the fun of raising the hatchlings and knowing that they have been raised in a healthy way from the start. I just don't see any clear cut answers.

So very true.
 

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So then Jacqui, I think housing tortoises in pairs is a bad idea. You think its perfectly fine. What now?
 

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Neal said:
You are suggesting that it's better to have 3 or more so that the aggression, or bullying, of one tortoise is spread out to two or more tortoises correct? If I understand you correctly, I would then have to assume, instead of one tortoise being totally stressed out you would have two tortoises moderately stressed out. I would imagine if the aggressor feels the need to defend his territory, that tortoise would be stressed as well, so you would really have 3 or more tortoises with stress levels above that which they would experience if they were on their own. I understand your logic of thinking, in that it is better to have them moderately stressed than completely stressed, but I'm going to have to disagree that keeping tortoises in pairs is inherently a bad thing.

I think it has more to do with proper husbandry and properly designed enclosures than it does with the number of animals you have. There're too many factors to consider when a pair of tortoises are kept together, where one is not doing as well as the other. If I kept a pair together, and noticed one appeared more stressed than the other, I would first consider the space I have available for them, then move on to the number and types of hiding places available, is feeding them together stressing them out, do I need to add more sight blocking objects, etc...I would do all this before considering adding an additional animal into an aggressive environment.

We could probably go back and forth forever and share experiences where it has or hasn't worked out, but I just wanted to throw my thoughts into the pot here, that when observing a pair of tortoises where one is obviously stressed, I don't think it's a simple matter of adding another tortoise to solve the issue, there may be other contributing factors as well that, if rectified, would yield a more favorable outcome.

Very well said, Neal.
 
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