Spring health check-up with Tamworth and District Tortoise Society

Spring health check-up with Tamworth and District Tortoise Society

FROM a young age, I’ve been fascinated by tortoises and turtles – their appearance, their life span – all the things that make them unique.

Besides the obvious costs of keeping one as a pet, I think I opted not to get one as a youngster due to not fully understanding the amount of care and knowledge needed to make a tortoise happy and healthy.

So, after speaking to the Tamworth and District Tortoise Society about their spring health check-up, I thought this would be a great chance to learn more about this particular reptile.

Joy Birch, one of the founders of the society, said: « The Tamworth and District Tortoise Society has been going for 18 years now. We run regular health checks for people who have tortoises as well as providing information.

« We’re also part of the British Chelonia Group, which is nationwide. I think it’s very important because sometimes a tortoise can be ill and you don’t know.

« For example, somebody here brought in a tortoise with a damaged claw, so our group is going to treat it. With the hot weather we’re having, a lot of people don’t realise that they need to give their tortoises water – water is very important to them.

« Early illnesses can also be diagnosed with these health checks, we’ve has tortoises with things like prolapses and abscesses that people may not realise their tortoise has. These can be quite dangerous for them if not found early enough.

« I’ve had tortoises from a young age, so I think that’s where the interest came from. »

Walking around the event, held at No Man’s Heath Village Hall on May 7, I saw tortoises of all shapes sizes, from babies to adults – including Tommy the tortoise, who is believed to be more than 100 years old, and was brought in by Tamworth resident Paul Sharman.

Jemma Jukes, from Lichfield, attended the event with her leopard tortoise, Nelly.

She said: « This is the first time we’ve been here. This type of tortoise can catch illnesses quite easily so we will need to keep getting it regularly checked.

« We didn’t realise how many people in the area have tortoises. »

Jill Butcher, one of the society members, introduced me to Twinkle – a marginated tortoise born with a deformed snout – who is currently being hand-fed by the team.

Jill said: « A lot of people don’t know that tortoises have a gland in the top of their head called the ‘pineal gland’ and that gives them directions to heat sources, it’s very primitive. They work like storage heaters because they need heat on their backs so they can digest food. »

I asked whether the society, and groups across the UK, are seeing a rise or fall in the number of tortoises.

« It’s picking up, » said Jill. « We’re getting a lot people now because the Russian tortoises don’t have to be licensed. All of the Mediterranean ones do because they’re endangered – but you can pick up a horsefield tortoise from most garden centres. »

It’s important that, for any pet, you have the right facilities and environment to look after them. Jill explained the basic requirements to keep your tortoise happy.

« You need a garden, » she said. « They need to be outside, people do keep them indoors but it’s not ideal because they need a lot of sunlight. Some people have tortoises and then they get fed up with them or are too old to look after them properly, and that’s when they come to us.

« We’ve had a lot of illegal imports that came in last year, it’s an ongoing problem. Once they’ve arrived they are allowed to stay here, which I think is a shame because if they know where they come from – rather than unload them – why can’t they take them back if they’re endangered?

« But maybe they’re safer over here. I remember being in Morocco a few years ago and people were waving them on sticks at the coaches to try and get you to buy them – it was terribly cruel.

« The knowledge and care of tortoises has increased so much for us now. When I was a child, you stuck them out in the garden in March and then brought it back in when it was October. »

Seeing the vast amount of people who came through the door shows just how popular this animal still is within the local area, and how dedicated owners are when it comes to their pet’s health.

If you would like to find out more or sign up to become a member of the Tamworth and District Tortoise Society, call 01827 700227 or e-mail

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