The norm of tortoise keeping in Finland

The_Four_Toed_Edward

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The article written by Kira Gronow (hs.fi 8.7.2024) tells about a Russian tortoise named Justiina and her owner Pekka Virtanen. It was published in the lifestyle section of a major news paper here in Finland.

I wanted to reference it here, because it tells really well about the norm of tortoise keeping here in Finland. It portrays Justiinas life as good and a goal for other tortoise keepers. It also tells about the many things that are commonly done here, and seen as best practice, even though after little research on the internet you will find out that they shouldn't be done.

The text contains many practices I don't recommend, but I just wanted to give you a peek into tortoise culture in Finland. I shortened, rearranged and translated the article for you:

Slowly good things come (a saying here in Finland)


Justiina is probably one of the oldest pets in Finland, and is only about the size of a palm.

Pekka Virtanen's tortoise hobby started in the 1960s. He got his first tortoise, Justus, from his grandparents in the mid-1960s. A couple of years later he got Justiina as a companion. At the time, an animal seller in Töölö told him that Justiina was over fifty years old - so she must be over a hundred years old now. So the tortoise has survived the Winter War and the Continuation War, and, with good luck, the Civil War of Finland. But the tortoise was not necessarily in Finland at that time. According to the seller, Justiina had ended up in Finland from somewhere near the Black Sea.

Virtanen's first turtle, Justus, died of a tumour back in the 1970s, but Justiina stayed, and fortunately there is no end in sight.

Justiina often paces on the lawn in the yard of an apartment building in East Helsinki, and in the summer she is outside almost every day. The dogs are amazed by the moving stone and have even tried to pee on it. But Justiina knows how to steer clear from them.

Sometimes Justiina is up to disappearing tricks, burrowing under the soil or piles of leaves. Once she was missing for several days and Virtanen was really worried. "If you add up all the hours our family and friends have spent looking for tortoises over the years, it must add up to weeks," says Virtanen.

Once when the turtle was missing again, Virtanen found it in a surprising way: he peeked out of his house and noticed that there was a commotion in the grass. This time, however, the tortoise was not alone, but was accompanied by a love-sick hedgehog.

Justiina was delighted with the gifts from HS. She recognises a banana very well, which is one of her favourite foods. Justiina is used to being hand-fed. Justiina is a vegetarian, she eats cabbage, salad and her favourite foods are bananas and strawberries. In the garden, she likes to bite clovers and stonecrop. "She's conservative and doesn't usually like new foods. I feed him vitamin powder between two pieces of cucumber."

"One of the few downsides of turtles is that they don't learn to be house-trained," Virtanen says. On the other hand, the tortoise usually poops only once a day - and ideally in the yard.

At home, it has certain routes that it travels back and forth on a daily basis. Justina has no terrarium at all. We tried that, but she wanted to get out of it immediately. She prefers to roam freely in the apartment and often goes to the balcony to sunbathe. Sometimes someone has almost stepped on it by accident, but fortunately a hard shield has protected it.

On the other hand, Justiina loves taking a shower. Sometimes she gets in the shower with the owners, but usually she is washed in the sink.

Justiina usually sleeps in a corner, for example behind the sofa. In the morning, she crawls out and waits at the foot of Virtanen's leg for the owner to lift her on her belly onto the sofa. Together they watch the morning news on TV. In the past, Virtanen had a thicker beard, and Justiina liked to stick her head inside it.

At one point, Virtanen even had a cat. Justiina often sat with the cat on the sofa and would have liked to nap next to it, but the cat was not very interested.

In winter, Justiina likes to lounge under a heat lamp. In the winter months she will hibernate, but not usually for more than a month.


"I haven't noticed that the pace has slowed down. And she was once really quick, when she accidentally went into the ant nest," Virtanen says. In terms of appearance, though, it looks quite old, with wrinkled legs and a bit blurry eyes. Virtanen reckons Justiina would need glasses for her old age. She once had an eye infection and was given antibiotic drops by the vet. The doctor noted that this was his oldest patient ever. Otherwise, the tortoise uses the same Oftagel eye drops as his host when necessary for his dry eyes.

There are three things Justiina hates: citrus fruits, the sound of a fire alarm and contemporary music. She never touches oranges. Once, when the fire alarm accidentally went off, it started blaring loudly. He also nods his head in annoyance. You can still hear the banging even if the radio is playing modern classical music. Justiina is more a fan of baroque music.

Source: https://www.hs.fi/elama/art-2000010510922.html
 

Tom

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Wow. That is just idiotic, and its pretty much the same over here. Cabbage, strawberries and bananas, the tort get lost, stepped on, and harassed by dogs regularly... You'd think they'd learn after the FIRST time they lost her... Poor tortoise. Its amazing what they can survive.
 

The_Four_Toed_Edward

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Yeah, survived since the 60s, why change now?

To sum it ups, tortoises are commonly treated like dogs here. Given human food, free roaming around the sauna, showering and even going to the sauna with humans. People think this is the best beacause all media potrays this as good around here.

The leading tortoise vet here (AFAIK) Johanna Raulio was also interviewed on the article as an expert. This tortoise is a patient of hers and she didn't say anything indicating that this is not a healthy lifestyle. If my tortoise needed surgery or something, I would probably turn to her, since she is the best in Finland. But for advice on tortoise husbandry, never...
 

Tom

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and hedgehogs, I don't know should I laugh or cry...
We don't have hedgehogs here. Some people keep the small African type as pets here, but not the European species. Do they bother tortoises? They are insectivores, aren't they?
 

Raquel1978

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We don't have hedgehogs here. Some people keep the small African type as pets here, but not the European species. Do they bother tortoises? They are insectivores, aren't they?
We have alot of hedgehogs here, I'm constantly taking them to our local hedgehog sanctuary.

Their quiet and shy and totally not a pest or a threat to any animal they love quiet and to be left alone. Their great for the garden as they live off all the little creatures that ruin your plants and vegetables.

Yeah they are insectivores.
 

The_Four_Toed_Edward

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We don't have hedgehogs here. Some people keep the small African type as pets here, but not the European species. Do they bother tortoises? They are insectivores, aren't they?
They are insectivores, but in this case a wild hedgehog tried to mate with this tortoise, when the tortoise was once again lost loose in the yard of an apartment complex. A hedgehog has never bothered my tortoise, they don't try to make their way into an outdoor enclosure or anything like that in my experience.
 

The_Four_Toed_Edward

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Here in Finland I think one thing is that people treat tortoises like dogs. But they aren't as intelligent, they won't get attached to you like that and come back on their own and they definetly can't defend for themselves. I think it is just hard for people to relate to non-mammals.

But the worst thing about this story is that this kind of tortoise care was framed as good. There was nothing about making a secure pen to your tortoise. It was like: "You should free roam your tortoise, the downside is that they escape sometimes, but it is what it is". That message I didn't really appreciate...
 

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