Turtles and Tortoises Don't Like Change

Igor the Russian

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Good post Yvonne. I'm always surprised when people don't understand this concept. Gradual desensitization. If done correctly from the time they are babies, this transition is seamless and easy for the tortoise. I think all the daily handling of moving them in and out is also a great desensitizer and gets them used to people and being handled too. Also allows the keeper to put their hands on the tortoise daily, which will hopefully allow any problems to be seen sooner, rather than later.

I know of a very experienced tortoise breeder that moved from a cold climate with all indoor housing to FL. He talked about how he moved them all to indoor housing in FL and when the pens were ready, he moved them all outside. He was pleased that his losses and sickness were minimal. I asked him why he didn't gradually desensitize them with short sessions to the great outdoors and he looked at me like I was speaking a foreign language. It was as if the thought never occurred to him. He stammered an answer: "Uhh, because you can't..." What? I said: "You already had them set up indoors. Why couldn't they go outside for an hour a day and then back inside? Over time, you could leave them out longer and longer until they stay out all day eventually." Essentially, I outlined the same plan you just explained in your OP here. It was clear that this was a totally new concept for this man and he'd never done anything like this before. Since this is how I have always done it, I couldn't comprehend his lack of comprehension!
Some people breed animals as if they are prize tomatoes.
 

Igor the Russian

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When I first started keeping turtles and tortoises in the late 1980s I realized there was a need for a turtle rescue in my area. As people found out I kept turtles and tortoises I was almost always asked if I wanted another one. So the Clovis Turtle and Tortoise Rescue was born.

The Rescue was operated here from my home for the past thirty five years or so and during that time I've learned quite a bit about turtle first aid and how turtles and tortoises act and react.

In my experience, turtles don't like change (I'm going to use "turtles" instead of having to type "turtles and tortoises" all the time). They are territorial and they navigate through their territory by the location of the objects in it.

So when you bring a new-to-you turtle home from the pet store, or a breeder, or a person on Craig's list, or wherever, that turtle is going to be stressed out by the change in living arrangements.

Of course, there are always exceptions to every rule, and there are a few turtles out there that just seem to be happy no matter where you put them. But as a general rule, turtles are stressed by being moved to a new home.

One thing I learned very early on in my rescue days: You can't take in a turtle that has been living indoors in substandard conditions and right away set him up outside in optimal conditions and expect him to thrive. You have to make this change gradually. Likewise, that baby you bought a year or two ago that has now outgrown his indoor quarters also needs to be changed to outdoors gradually.

When the weather is nice enough for your indoor baby to go outside, take him out and let him roam his SAFE and inescapable outdoor set up for about an hour, then bring him back inside. You can gradually, over a month or so, increase the time outside until he's staying outside all day and only being brought in at night. You have to pay attention to him during his outside time and make sure he's eating and finding his hiding places on his own.

When I take my indoor turtle outside, I set him down in front of the food then quickly step out of his sight, watching from a safe distance to make sure he's going to eat.

Stress shows itself in a couple different ways - not eating, runny nose, hiding all the time, third eyelid swelling. If this happens when you make your move, you'll have to go a bit more slowly with the change. Once he realizes he's going to be brought back into his safe indoor territory, he should accept being put outside more readily.

Sometimes one of us may bring home a new turtle that just marches around his new enclosure like nothing new is going on. He eats, he explores, he acts normally. Then the next day he's depressed, hiding, not eating and you wonder what the heck is going on. This is also perfectly normal. You just have to give him time to understand this new place is safe and nothing bad is going to happen to him.

In this case, I allow him to 'sulk' for a day or two, then I start taking him out and placing him in front of the food every time I walk by the enclosure. He'll eventually get the message.

So be patient and let your turtle tell you what he needs.

If any of you have something constructive to add to this thread about your experience making changes in your turtle's life, please feel free to add your stories.
This is so helpful! Thanks so much. I am taking in an unwanted Russian tomorrow. I want to improve his enclosure, but I’ll do it slowly! Any advice about seasonal outdoor enclosure? I live in Massachusetts.
 

Tom

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This is so helpful! Thanks so much. I am taking in an unwanted Russian tomorrow. I want to improve his enclosure, but I’ll do it slowly! Any advice about seasonal outdoor enclosure? I live in Massachusetts.
All of that is explained here:
 

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