Close the door, we’re trying to sleep: The woman who keeps 75 hibernating tortoises in her fridges
In most refrigerators, you don’t come across living things. Except maybe some yoghurt or a spot of mould.
But open up Shirley Neely’s two fridges and you’ll find them teeming with life.
On every shelf, wrapped in tea towels, are slumbering tortoises. The smaller ones are snuggled up in a biscuit tin, but the bigger fellows are laid out side-by-side in their makeshift sleeping bags.
Shelf life: Some of the 75 tortoises tucked up inside Mrs Neely’s fridges for their winter sleep
Mrs Neely who runs the Jersey-based Tortoise Sanctuary, had to set up the fridges because of the particularly mild winter.
Her tortoises hibernate for up to three months between December and March, and need steady temperatures between 3c and 8c.
They are in danger of waking early if it heats up – and then do not have enough body weight to keep themselves warm and not enough energy to eat or drink.
But fridges, at a steady 4c to 6c, are the perfect environment.
Mrs Neely said: « It’s much easier to maintain a constantly cool temperature with a fridge than it is with our ever-warming climate. »
The 75 tortoises were given three weeks without food, allowed to complete their toilet needs (tortoises must empty their digestive system before hibernating), then bathed, weighed, wrapped and put to bed – with the odd bottle-of wine or jar of mayonnaise for company.
The towels were removed for these photographs, which gave Mrs Neely an opportunity to check all was well.
She opens the doors each day to waft fresh air inside. As tortoises breathe only once a minute during hibernation, this is sufficient to keep them healthy.
Mrs Neely used to keep her animals in boxes in an outhouse and not all her visitors are used to this new method.
On Saturday night a guest said she would get a bottle of wine and was stunned when she opened the fridge.
Mrs Neely said: « I do sometimes keep a bottle of wine inside because it helps stabilise the temperature. »
Most of the tortoises in her care were confiscated at airports by customs officials. Several are not hibernating, as they have been ill.
Next month, she will begin to wake them up in stages. They will eventually move into heated greenhouses.