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For tortoise, terrapin and turtle care and conservation



A female Testudo hermanni was brought to us on 20th July 1986. Her owners explained that she was only eating when coaxed. Examination revealed that although she appeared basically healthy she was well underweight (Wt to length ratio (W/L x 3) was .158 gm/cm3 instead of a normal .20/.21). She had suffered shell damage in four places, which had been inexpertly repaired with epoxy resin. Her left eye also appeared to be partially sight damaged (generally the result of inadequate hibernation techniques). We explained to her owners how to reactivate the tortoise's appetite by providing basking facilities and stomach tubing.

Her owners brought her back on 16th September. They had obviously been unsuccessful in persuading the tortoise to eat. She was now close to starvation (weight 1,125 gms, length 19.8 WT to length ratio now. 1 45) and was effectively in a hibernation state, spending 99% of her time with her eyes closed and, if placed under a basking lamp, moved away to where it was dark and cold.

We took over the care of Cinderella. This was not the name used by her owners, but it seemed an appropriate pseudonym.

It was impossible to use a basking system to raise her body temperature because she shunned the light so initially we kept her in a small, thermostatically controlled box so that she could not avoid the heat For the first 11 days the day-temperature was set at 37°C (98°F), and for the next 19 days at 33°C (91°F). The night temperature was approximately 22°C (70°F). She was fed by stomach tube and forcibly mouth fed using fruit and vegetable baby foods or dandelion/clover/sowthistle chopped up in a liquidiser. For the first 11 days we continued to fill her stomach and virtually nothing came out The average amount of food given (and hence increase in weight) was 22 gms/day over this period. The quantities were started small and gradually increased. On days 4 and 5 she was given 8cc of water with glucose dissolved in it. Even while she was being forcibly fed Cinderella had her eyes closed and was mostly comatose. On day 7 she passed a small quantity of a jelly-like substance in her daily warm bath. Dr. Oliphant Jackson expressed the opinion that this was an intestinal secretion which had had no food with which to react.

The first faeces were passed on day 11 and the first urine on day 14, when weight gain became much slower (about 1.5 gms per day) and became masked by large fluctuations in bowel content Although she was bathed daily she did not drink until day 25, when she drank an enormous quantity. Her shoulders blew up like balloons and when she was lifted from the bath, water trickled from her mouth, nostrils and cloaca. She was weighed at 1655 g. Half an hour later she urinated and returned to her normal shape. She was weighed again at 1420g. The difference was 235 gms! Subsequently we forcibly moderated her drinking.

Gradually the tortoise became less comatose, but as she became more awake she also became more unhappy with her cramped quarters. On day 30 we decided she was probably now capable of regulating her own temperature so we moved her to a cellar with a general temperature of approximately 23°C (74°F) and a basking lamp giving a spot temperature of 40°C (104°F). This day she ate a small quantity of food unaided.

On day 34 we tidied up the shell repairs with a file. This was obviously not appreciated by Cinderella, who released a large quantity of urine!

On day 36 she fed herself totally for the first time. During the period between then and day 100 she has steadily gained weight but at a reducing rate of increase, her voracious thirst has steadily reduced until she virtually never drinks at all now, and she has reduced the daily weight fluctuations to around 20 gms. She walked for the first time without dragging her plastron on the ground after 64 days.

After 100 days her weight is 1520 gms, length 19.8 cms, W/L x 3 = .195 gm/ cm3. She is now waiting to be handed back to her owners together with instructions on hibernation in the hope that weight loss be minimised and the eye damage not repeated. Instructions will also be given on summer conditions, feeding, etc. so that hopefully the improvements can be continued.

Testudo Volume Two Number Five 1987