Med Tortoise Pen Design

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Med Tortoise Pen Design

Postby Tortoise Trust » Fri Apr 22, 2011 8:50 am

INTRODUCTION

This is something we have been working on for quite some time. In this post we will show how to create a genuine-looking (and more importantly very functional) pen suitable for Testudo graeca, T. hermanni and T. marginata.

To start with, all of this data was gathered in the wild, with additional practical tests carried out on captive animals. Some types of natural habitat would NOT be suitable for use in cooler, Northern climates. One example is a habitat type we have in certain locations here, which features a very fine, but concentrated, level of clay.. this works in a very arid habitat, but would turn rapidly into a sticky quagmire in the UK or Northern France. So, we have concentrated on those habitats and substrates that can be effectively created and maintained in such climates.

The actual habitats shown are those used by Testudo graeca graeca - but as stated, you will find anything based on this equally well suited to T. hermanni, T. ibera and T. marginata.

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Following: Substrates
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Re: Med Tortoise Pen Design

Postby Tortoise Trust » Fri Apr 22, 2011 11:01 am

We have studied the behaviour under various conditions of several classes of natural substrate. As mentioned above, not all would be appropriate as a basis to "copy" in Northern Europe. The type of substrate (and vegetation cover) shown here, however, is suitable. It has several key features:

1) Outstanding drainage
2) Heat acquisition and retention
3) It provides an excellent "grip" for tortoises
4) It provides natural wear for claws, beaks and keratin layer of the shell
5) It encourages the growth of suitable vegetation (covered in more detail later)
6) It permits the tortoise to self-select the ideal angle for basking

Look closely at these images and accompanying notes as they are very instructive.

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Note how many quite large stones and rocks there are. This is important. Tortoises need this in order to naturally keep their claws to a suitable length. They also use them as "basking perches" to angle themselves when thermoregulating. The grass shown here is Esparto grass, but you could use any similar ornamental grass, or even Pampas grass. Tortoises make extensive use of this for shelter.

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Darker, shall type substrates are quite common and can easily be replicated. They are excellent for picking up heat from the sun, and for providing an alternative to a typical cold and damp surface...this is very important in preventing shell and skin infections. I cannot stress enough how important it is that the substrate in pens needs to be DRY and as far as possible, WARM. The only way to achieve that in Northern Europe is to carefully design pens for maximum drainage and for surface solar-gain.

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The natural habitat is rarely dead flat. Quite the opposite. It tends to be really surprisingly steep. Again, this helps with thermoregulation and prevents nests from becoming flooded in heavy rain. While creating huge mountains is not possible in captivity, you can create sloped areas in pens and should do so.

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Pens should be as large as possible. You can also include mini-greenhouses or polytunnels to provide both extra warmth and to keep things a bit drier. It is actually easy to make habitats like this: just mix some regular topsoil and sand, and mix that in with coarse shale and rocks. It will be an ideal base for growing Mediterranean herbs such as Thyme and Rosemary (which are incredibly common in this area in tortoise habitats) as well as other suitable succulents, Cistus, etc.

Just to prove it can be done... this is one we created in Wales over 15 years ago. If you can do it in Wales, you can do it almost anywhere...

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This took several tons of gravel, shale and mixed tosoil/sand... but after a year or two, developed into a wonderful tortoise habitat!

Next: Planting the enclosure
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Re: Med Tortoise Pen Design

Postby Stuart » Fri Apr 22, 2011 11:21 am

This is excellent, Andy: most inspiring! I lost a lot of my rosemary and lavender this winter, so my tortoise areas are needing a replant, but I feel I should go further and improve the substrate even more along the lines suggested here.
Stuart
Hermanns (old female and 5 home-bred offspring), iberas (two), kbn (rescue), leopard, horsfield (rescue), stars (2 - long term loan), red-eared sliders (5)
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Re: Med Tortoise Pen Design

Postby Julie » Fri Apr 22, 2011 11:43 am

As much as keepers are temptied, we need to stop 'prettying up' the enclosures......the rougher, more natural approach, the better :D
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Re: Med Tortoise Pen Design

Postby Graham Ray » Fri Apr 22, 2011 1:31 pm

How true what you said Julie. :!: Heres a picture I took on Wednesday of two beetles, obviously in the mating mode but if you look carefully this is the substrate (shingle type)that maybe we could aim for in our enclosures. ;)

Image

As you say tidying the enclosure regularly does detract from the real thing.

As Andy said black shale was only a few hundred yards away and a completely different look. :idea:

An enclosure could incorporate any of these stones. Drainage however is the key. :)
Please consider the environment before printing this post!!

Graham.
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Re: Med Tortoise Pen Design

Postby Julie » Fri Apr 22, 2011 1:39 pm

We gave up 'prettying' our enclosures years ago, they only trash it anyway. We added gravel etc to the soil, and made slopes, it works.....they bask at angles on the uneven ground, very natural.
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Re: Med Tortoise Pen Design

Postby insenceaddict » Fri Apr 22, 2011 6:58 pm

Very inspiring Andy. pictures are great too. thanks.
Jacqui
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Re: Med Tortoise Pen Design

Postby Tortoise Trust » Sat Apr 23, 2011 6:42 am

Over the next day or so I will be adding some info on suitable plants. It is not just a question of edible plants, either. Many of these plants have other roles that are not at all obvious..... when designing the basic "tortoise habitat", as above, note how there are open spaces. This is also important. Don't over plant. In very wet areas, you may find the "raised bed" approach best. Elevate the entire area to improve drainage. You can get heavy duty landscaping timber for this. A raised bed design will also be slightly warmer in early Spring as it is partly isolated from the near-infinite mass of the earth.
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Re: Med Tortoise Pen Design

Postby Tortoise Trust » Sat Apr 23, 2011 10:53 am

Before I get to that, let me illustrate the truly DRAMATIC impact that substrate colour and heat absorption characteristics have on surface temperatures.

These photos were taken a few seconds apart under identical conditions, in the same location. I set up 3 substrates next to each other, outdoors, in natural sunlight. Everything was 100% identical apart from the substrate choice:

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The light (gold) gravel only attains 22.8 Celsius.
The grey gravel reaches 38.4 Celsius!
The red is in the middle range, at 31.6 Celsius.

The maximum difference? A massive 15.6 degrees Celsius

Out here, in fact, the grey substrate would probably be far too hot much of the time, but using the grey shale types can produce a genuinely useful boost in colder climates like the UK. So, something as simple as this can make a huge impact on the surface (and subsoil) temperatures in your pens. This can really help at nesting times, too. What's more... this "extra" heat is totally free. No electricity required!
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Re: Med Tortoise Pen Design

Postby sprout » Sun Apr 24, 2011 12:04 am

This is fascinating Andy, thankyou, and couldn't have come at a better time as we are about to make a new outside enclosure for our 2 t. marginata. Especially the info on the gravel colour.
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