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Questions- possible new leopard owner

Discussion in 'Leopard tortoises' started by MIReptilian, Jul 14, 2019.

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  1. MIReptilian

    MIReptilian Member

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    I'm a new member doing a ton of research trying to figure out what tortoise is best for me and my family. The leopard is on my short list.

    I live in a rural area of Michigan and have enough space for a large indoor and very large outdoor enclosure.

    Summers here are hot and humid and winters are cold and snowy.

    I'll be a first time tortoise owner so really dont want a species that is too high maintenance.. I am well aware that caring for any animal is a good amount of work. I'm a beekeeper and have some poultry as well.

    With proper care will the leopard tortoise be comfortable in my environment? Obviously it would be living indoors throughout our winter and outdoors in the late spring through late summer (when it is of age).

    Any real concerns or nice to know kinda stuff with leopards that are different from other tortoises?

    Can anyone point me in the direction of a thread that compares the difference between the 2 sub species (or species.. not sure what the proper terminology is) between the leopards? My understanding that there is a South African version pardalis pardalis and then a regular one pardalis babcocki. Is this correct? Is there a difference in size, personality, character? Looks like the babcocki sub species is more readily available. I'm looking for an active tortoise with some character. Thoughts?

    Is it smart for someone like me to consider a yearling over a very young hatchling?

    Will a tortoise table work for a leopard? It seems that I've read most people opt for full enclosures to help moderate humidity. Not a big deal, just curious.

    I will say that whatever species of tortoise I choose will be given a very good life. Whatever it needs. It will get. I plan on building an indoor enclosure before I even get the tortoise and outfitting it's space with all the necessities. We also have a 50x32 organic garden (complete romaine, radicchio, kale, berries etc ) on our property along with a 20 tree organic fruit orchard. We do not spay the lawn areas so we have tons of dandelions, weeds and native wildflowers.

    Anyone willing to offer up some advice or suggestions? Also breeders to consider or online sellers?

    Thank you so much. I honestly cant stop reading about tortoises and find their care, enclosures etc very interesting.

    Ps. I'm considering an eastern box turtle and possibly a hermanns tortoise as well. I likely post similar threads in those specific forums.

    Thanks
    Jeff.
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  2. wccmog10

    wccmog10 Active Member

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    There’s so many questions in their, I don’t even know where to start. It’s great that you are doing your research and learning before jumping into the deep end of the pool. My thinking is that the biggest question is your climate. Your climate in Michigan certainly isn’t ideal- but that doesn’t mean you can’t keep whatever species of tortoise you want. It just means that it will take more effort to take care of your tortoise properly. I recommend reading as much as you can on this forum about some of your questions, and I’m sure others will respond here with great information.

    In my opinion leopard tortoises make great pets. They get to a decent size, but they are not as big or destructive as a salcuta (not to say that salcuta are not good tortoises to keep). And they are not so small that everything wants to eat them when they are outside. There are several breeders here on this site (including a few that have the pardalis subspecies). If a leopard tortoise is in your future- I’d recommend getting it from someone on the forum.

    There are other tortoise species though that handle the cold weather better- so I would read this forum and get feedback on from this thread about what species might be best. I do not have much experience with the more cold tolerant species- so I will leave that for others to comment on.
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  3. katieandiggy

    katieandiggy Well-Known Member

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    Hi Jeff,

    There are lots of knowledgeable people on this forum.
    I don’t keep leopards but I understand that they are a great species to keep.

    I guess the first question you need to ask yourself is, do you want a hibernating species of tortoise that will sleep through the worst/ coldest months of the winter or a non hibernating species that you will have to keep warm throughout the winter?

    One of the biggest things will be space, enough space for a medium sized non hibernating species to spend months and months during the cold weather.. that area would need to be fully heated day and night which can be very costly.

    You mentioned your basement... basements are cold areas and I can imagine the floor would need to be insulated in some way but it’s not impossible.

    If you are opting for a young hatchling/ juvenile you would really need a closed chamber where you can maintain 80% + humidity at all times. If you were to go for an adult the humidity is not as much as an issue..

    Have you thought about a redfoot? They are also a great species, similar care in that they need space, heat, humidity. They however have a much more varied diet with fruits and veg and protein. (They would be my choice if I were going to buy a non hibernating species)

    Or

    You could opt for the hibernating species, a Hermann or Russian or Greek. I think out of the 3 Greeks grow the largest and there are several sub species. During winter your tortoise would hibernate and you would not need to be concerned with heating an indoor area.

    Just some thoughts
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  4. MIReptilian

    MIReptilian Member

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    Thanks so much for the replies and suggestions.

    I was up late last night reading about Leopards.. now I may be thinking my above post is a bit premature. I'm starting to think that an adult leopard might be too big to comfortably keep indoors during our winters here in Michigan. @katieandiggy is right. Basement is cooler and I would probably spend a small fortune keeping an adult leopard warn during the winter short of constructing a separate well insulated room.
    I'm guilty like everyone else in saying "awww..look how cute the baby leopards are" without considering their size and needs when they become adults. Now I'm talking myself out of a leopard.

    For those that want to help me decide on a good tortoise/turtle for me and my family, I did start a thread in the general discussion forum. I would greatly appreciate more opinions.

    Thanks!
    Jeff
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  5. MIReptilian

    MIReptilian Member

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    I still have a few questions regarding Leopard care... Can someone help me out...
    Obviously being in MI I need to bring any Tortoise species I end up getting into the house for the winter. It can get very cold here, and even if I plan on hibernating certain species I would still likely need to bring them in the house.

    Let me ask you this.... How much indoor room would an adult leopard need in the winter? Let's say I want to build an area in my basement. The basement generally stays warm during the winter. We have a pellet burning stove down there that keeps the temps at 65-70ish with lower humidity. I've read threads recently that describe heated outdoor sheds for winter housing. Somehow these sheds seem to be acceptable yet it seems like most tort keepers frown on large basement enclosures. Can someone explain this to me.. I would think that a tortoise would be more more comfortable in a 12x10 heated basement enclosure over a 8x8 heated shed out in the elements. Maybe I'm wrong...

    Can anyone give me a good idea of what would be a minimum sized enclosure for one adult leopard tortoise in a basement? I could easily build something 12x10 with heat lamps, hide, subfloor etc.

    Thanks!
    Jeff
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  6. MIReptilian

    MIReptilian Member

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    @Tom or @Neal can either of you offer up opinions on the questions above? While reading tons of threads over the last week or so I've noticed you two seem to be on your game when it comes to leopards.

    My understanding is that leopards are not good with high humidity. Is this true? I've come across posts of people in the gulf states keeping them outside year round which makes me think our humid summers here in MI wont be an issue provided I have a dry house for them.

    What about pricing for babcocki vs pardalis pardalis? Money doesnt make a huge difference but i was just curious.

    Thanks
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  7. Tom

    Tom The Dog Trainer 5 Year Member Platinum Tortoise Club

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    I have no experience keeping large tortoises in the frozen north. Were I to try it, I'd want a large heated warehouse for it. Tortoises need room to walk around all year, except for the species that hibernate, of course. I've not seen any method of winter keeping that I'd be comfortable with for a large tortoise in a climate like that. Lots of people do it, but its a compromise for sure.

    When it comes to enclosure size, there are no scientifically studied, cold hard facts. An adult leopard isn't going to instantly drop dead if you put it in a 4x4' indoor winter enclosure. Likewise, it won't be automatically healthy if you put it in a 100 x 100' indoor, heated, insulated, and well lit warehouse with heated floors. Its a bunch of compromises. Its what a person is comfortable with. At some point smaller confines will restrict movement and can contribute to constipation. They need locomotion to help keep the GI tract moving, much like a horse. The smaller the enclosure gets, the more likely this is to happen, but you can prevent it with daily soaks, which will keep the GI tract moving. Can you maintain the health of an adult leopard in a 10x12' basement enclosure? Yes. Probably. But are you comfortable with keeping the tortoise cooped up like that for months at a time every year? I'm not, but some people are. I've seen indoor winter housing done extremely well by some keepers in frozen winter climates. Its still not something I'd want to do, but they make it work and get good results. My advice: If you decide to do it, go as big as you can.

    Leopards thrive in high humidity IF you keep it warm and they grow up that way. Transplant a leopard from AZ or the SoCal desert and plop it straight in to an outdoor enclosure in Florida in fall with no acclimation period, and it is very likely to get sick. Hatch a leopard in FL and raise it there its whole life and it will do fine outside full time. Buy a baby from anywhere, raise it in a warm closed chamber with high humidity, and give it brief periods outdoors as a baby, with more and more daily outdoor time as it grows (weather permitting), and they will thrive anywhere with warm temps.

    Almost 10 years ago "they" decided there would be no more leopard subspecies. The leopards are now all one species, no subspecies, and there are 11 morphologically distinct clades throughout their enormous range. Over here in the US, we imported thousands upon thousands of them from the 60's right up to 1998 when importation was banned. The ones here came from all over Africa and have been mixing for many captive bred generations. There is one man here in CA that kept his imports from different regions isolated from each other and only bred like to like. All of the true "pardalis pardalis", (now referred to as South African leopards in this country) can be traced back to him. I know of no other "pure South African" leopards although their existence is possible and probable. All babies from this man's stock have distinct and easily identifiable characteristics. I've personally raised about 100 of them now.

    So you have "regular" leopards which could, in theory, be from one of these other clades, but are most likely a mix of several clades, and you have the true South African leopards which were imported in 1990, breed true, and have been kept separately. The regular leopards are generally smaller, have a higher dome and tend to be shy. SA leopards get bigger, have a lower dome, and tend to be much more outgoing. This gets confusing because some people have a mix, which they think is a "regular" leopard, and it acts more like a SA leopard because of its genetics. Anyhow. When you see true versions of both, the difference is night and day.

    Regular leopards generally sell for $150. SA leopards usually sell for $300. Regular leopards hatch all year and can be found almost any time you want one. Artificial incubation is no problem. SA leopards are difficult to hatch artificially, so most of us leave the eggs in the ground and collect the babies as they hatch on their own in fall. This makes the SA leopards much more seasonal in their availability.

    They next, and probably most important thing to consider is HOW the babies are started. Most breeders start them way too dry, and most of their babies die weeks or months later as a result. More info on that here: https://tortoiseforum.org/threads/hatchling-failure-syndrome.23493/
    By contrast, here is how they should be started: https://tortoiseforum.org/threads/how-to-incubate-eggs-and-start-hatchlings.124266/

    Don't buy a baby from someone who keeps them outside all day and doesn't soak daily. Babies in the wild hatch during the warm rainy season. Lots of water to drink and higher humidity than the "dry" season. Babies do better when kept mostly indoors. Brief excursions in a safe outdoor pen are good, but outside all day every day is not good for them.
    Last edited: Jul 16, 2019
  8. wellington

    wellington Well-Known Member Moderator 5 Year Member Tortoise Club

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    I live in Chicago, weather similar to Michigan. I was raised in Michigan. I keep leopards, 3 of them. 2 adults and toddler. I used to have a couple more.
    I house mine in an insulated heated shed for winter.
    I have also housed them in my basement in a pop up 10x12 greenhouse.
    It's not hard, it's a little more costly then in the warm states. However, even though in the warm states have to heat their tortoises.
    Many of us in the snow states have leopards, sulcatas, you name it.
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  9. Michael231

    Michael231 Member

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    Hey @MIReptilian

    It’s awesome you’re doing so much research before jumping into caring for a tortoise! You’ve got some great questions!

    With the outdoor shed vs. basement argument, I think the main issue is in temperature confidence, meaning that in a shed dedicated to keeping reptiles, the temperature can be regulated easier than in a large basement. However, I know plenty of people that keep their collections in a basement (albeit generally not tortoises) but the basement is vigorously climate controlled. 65-70 Fahrenheit is on the colder side for leopard tortoises during winter. They are a cold tolerant species in nature (southern/southeastern Africa) and it isn’t unheard of leopard tortoises living in environments where the temperature drops into the 30’s Fahrenheit. I’ve even heard of leopards living in snow for a few days, from secondary sources. However, with that said, in captivity they should be kept much warmer. I’d personally say 65-70 degrees during winter isn’t a bad temperature for a cool down period to mimic the wild temp fluctuations (I’d keep the temp around 70 though and not much cooler). Others do it differently, and have other experiences which they will undoubtedly share! I think there are a variety of ways to keep them during winter, and it depends on keeping style.

    For the subspecies, Stigmochelys pardalis pardalis is generally harder to find to my knowledge, given that the range is restricted to South Africa and southern Namibia. This subspecies gets quite large (generally larger than babcocki) and is less cold tolerant and more sensitive to the elements (per secondary sources). Stigmochelys pardalis babcocki is from the rest of the species range (extending inland and up the southeastern African coast). It generally is smaller than the nominate subspecies (however, certain populations such as those in Ethiopia near the capital city reportedly can reach up to 28-30” in length). I’ve also heard babcocki is a little less sensitive to the elements in general.

    Lastly, I know some keepers that keep leopard tortoises in the southeastern United States. At least one of the keepers keeps babcocki, and to my knowledge he hasn’t had issues acclimating them to a higher humidity. Others who have more experience keeping leopards can hopefully weigh in on how much humidity adults can acclimate to.
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  10. Michael231

    Michael231 Member

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    Also, here’s a link to the leopard tortoise section of the forum. Hopefully this helps;

    https://www.tortoiseforum.org/forums/leopard-tortoises.87/

    But I agree with everyone else that has replied thus far, that a smaller, more cold tolerant species (any of the five Testudo; subspecies specific) would make a better species to keep in your climate, however a leopard is doable, just lots of work.
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  11. MIReptilian

    MIReptilian Member

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    Thank you so much Tom. I appreciate the very detailed explanation and insight..

    The more I read and look at examples of enclosures, my doubts about keeping a leopard healthy and happy are decreasing. However, I'm really trying to educate myself as much as I can about proper care for not only the Leopard, but for a few other alternative species I'm considering. ideally, i would like a medium sized tortoise. I'm not a rich man, but money isn't a huge concern when it comes to caring for an animal and making it comfortable. It will be taken care of and I believe I have the resources and property to do so. But again, that specifically why I'm here asking questions.

    I guess what I'm still confused about is the winter accommodation thing. While scrolling through hundreds of threads lately, I see pictures of southern Leopard keepers heated enclosures and most are nothing to brag about (not trying to offend anyone...simply my observations). Small sheds "with access to the outdoors". I guess what i'm getting at... why is a tiny heated shed for a medium/large sized tortoise considered "ok" in the southern states that have 20,30 and 40 degree winters (even though that animal may not come out of the small heated shed hardly ever) better than a 200sqft indoor area with proper uvb and heat in a basement up here in the north? I've even seen recommendations while reading for 50x50ft indoor/heated enclosures for northern keepers yet a tiny heated shed works for people that have 40 degree winters? I'm not seeing how the animal would thrive more in a tiny outdoor shed vs a larger indoor enclosure. Maybe you can touch on this a bit more? I would appreciate it.

    With regards to an outdoor area for the summer months here in MI.... Right now it's been in the high 80's and even low 90's with no rain for almost 3 weeks. It's hot, the air is kinda humid, but the ground is bone dry. For the next 5 days we are supposed to get on an off rain, thunder showers, and temps in the mid 90's with nightly lows in high 60's to mid 70's. This is typical of MI summers . The weather changes quite often and it can get very hot at times but normally the average temp is in the low 80's during the day in low 70's at night. It I built a large outdoor enclosure complete with plantings, turtle house, and a small greenhouse/coldframe with 24/7 access to the green house and turtle house would you think I would have any issues with keeping a leopard during the summer?

    I appreciate all the suggestions and opinions. I'm here to learn..

    Thanks!
    Jeff

    PS
    Regardless of what i end up getting, I surely will not buy a hatching form someone who doesn't know what they're doing or start the hatchling in a a poor way. That is specifically why, when I finally make a decision, I will seek out a respected breeder from this site.
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  12. MIReptilian

    MIReptilian Member

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    Michael.. Thank you for the detailed explanation and opinion. I appreciate it.
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  13. MIReptilian

    MIReptilian Member

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    Wellington.. Thank you. I was waiting to hear from you as I noticed during my readings that you were in Chicago and kept Leopards. Do You have any photos of your accommodations? Keep in mind, I would be keeping one Tort and not 3 (well, if tortoise math is anything like Chicken math I may get more eventually :) ). I'm just curious what other Northerners are doing during the winter. Maybe you can direct me to useful threads or photos that may influence my decision process a bit? I did read about a member in Ontario that was keeping a sulcata in an outdoor/insulated shed during the winter. I would probably opt for a large area in my 2000 sqft unfinished basement where I could regulate the heat a bit cheaper and easier.

    Thanks!
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  14. Tom

    Tom The Dog Trainer 5 Year Member Platinum Tortoise Club

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    Have you kept leopards in a colder climate and tested these numbers? I haven't. I'm wondering how you know keeping a leopard in a basement at 70 degrees in a frozen winter climate is the right temperature.
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  15. Tom

    Tom The Dog Trainer 5 Year Member Platinum Tortoise Club

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    They are not harder to find in this country because of their home range and that doesn't make sense anyway because 6 of the 11 known clades are in South Africa. They are harder to find because few were ever imported and almost no one kept the different types from different parts of the range separate. Now, only a few breeders in the whole country have true SA types.

    Also, you've got your temperature specs backwards. The "regular" leopards are from the more tropical parts of Africa while the SA leopards are from a more temperate climate that is very similar to Southern CA, the Mediterranean area, and parts of Australia. Hot summers and cooler winters. In some parts of the range of the SA leopards it snows and they hibernate under the snow. Where I saw them in the wild down on the cape, the weather closely resembles San Francisco's cold clammy climate. I would not call that less cold tolerant. Having kept both for many years, I can tell you that the SA leopards tolerate cold much better than the regular leopards. The regular leopard are more sensitive and more prone to sickness when not cared for correctly.
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  16. MIReptilian

    MIReptilian Member

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    Just a bit of a clarification. When I said my basement is at 65-70 degrees in the winter, I'm speaking of ambient room temps. I can heat the area of the enclosure to a higher temp if necessary.

    My thought is heating an outdoor shed in sub zero temps for 6 months would be much more costly than taking an insulated enclosure in a basement to to proper temps when the basement is already at 68 degrees.

    Anyway, just wanted to clear that up. Dont want anyone to think I'm going to plop down the leopard on the basement floor surrounded by plywood and hope its happy at 68 degrees. I would heat the enclosure.
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  17. wccmog10

    wccmog10 Active Member

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    Just remember that the concrete floor will be much colder than the ambient temperature of the basement.
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  18. Tom

    Tom The Dog Trainer 5 Year Member Platinum Tortoise Club

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    I don't see an advantage to a shed over a basement, however, I have zero experience keeping them in either of those. This is outside my area of expertise. Here in my climate we have warm sunny weather all year. We have an occasional rainy winter day with high temps in the 50s, but they just hang out in their heated boxes when those days hit. Or they will come out and graze a bit and then get back in the warm box. Most winter days are sunny and in the 70s. Sometimes we have warm winter spells in the 80s. A couple of years ago it was 96 degrees on Thanksgiving Day here. These things are my frame of reference. I don't want to talk you in or out of anything. I'm just sharing my thoughts on the matter and my comfort level. If I lived in your climate, I'd get species that hibernate and leave them outside in secure enclosures for summer and hibernate them over the frozen winter. I'd have large indoor accommodations, or possibly a heated night box set up outside for spring and fall when temps are fluctuating and sometimes too cold, and this would extend their "up" time quite a bit.

    There isn't a right or wrong on this issue. Its what you feel comfortable with. Some people don't eat meat because they feel bad for the cute and fuzzy animals. They aren't comfortable with it. Not me. I hunt, kill and eat animals all the time. I love a good steak or bacon cheeseburger and I don't feel bad for the cow. Or the pig. I'm not "wrong" and neither is the vegetarian. We just have differing comfort levels.

    Can you keep a large tortoise alive in a heated shed or basement in winter for 5-7 months a year? Yes. Of course. Lots of people do it. Do you feel comfortable about that is the question. I don't. But I don't think people who do it are "wrong". Its just not what I want to do. If I were in that situation, I'd prefer to keep species that were smaller and more manageable in that climate. I'd have some super cool greek and hermanni subspecies and I'd love the hell out of them. I'd try to get a bunch of those greenish yellowish high domed giant sized Russian tortoises breeding. But that is what my heart desires. Other people want other things and that is okay. All this uncertainty you are feeling about how to do it and how well it would or wouldn't work? I get it. That's exactly how I see it. I see how much my sulcatas roam on a typical January day, and I don't know how someone can keep one in a 10x10' pen in a basement with 10 feet of snow outside. On the other hand, some people look at my little 8000 sq. ft. enclosure and think its too small. They think sulcatas should have at least an acre per tortoise. I'm comfortable confining my group of four to 8000 square feet, but some people wouldn't be. And that is okay.

    I hope this clarifies what I'm trying to say...
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  19. MIReptilian

    MIReptilian Member

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    I would not put them on the concrete floor. I would most definitely build a insulated subfloor out of 2x4s and plywood. Then I would build the enclosure on to of that. Heck, if I wanted to, I could build a 20x20 enclosure in the basement.

    I'm still on the fence. Like I said, just trying to get as much info as possible so I dont make a bad decision. At 43, this could be a lifelong commitment for me. Something else to think about.
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  20. MIReptilian

    MIReptilian Member

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    Yes sir. This clarifies things. I do understand. Being a northerner, I understand I'm an outlier and would be taking something that is more suited to a warmer climate, and trying to give it a comfortable life in a colder climate. Yes it will take a lot of work, money, and time. At least now, that is os very clear to me.

    "Uncertainty" is definitely the word that best describes how I'm feeling. I'm sure I could make anything "work", but at what cost? If it means the animal would suffer, it's not worth it.

    I'm not ruling out a leopard, but have made similar posts to this one on both the box turtle forum and Hermann forum. I'm going to gather as much info as I can and take my time with this decision. I'm not setting deadlines.

    Thanks Tom.

    Jeff
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